Mon, 14 Apr 2003

Fear reigns in troubled Aceh

Nani Farida and Arya Abhiseka, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh

As fear was once again on the rise here, Acehnese leaders warned the government against launching a military operation in Aceh, saying that it had been proven in the past, that such an approach would certainly not resolve the conflict.

Imam Su'ja, chairman of the Acehnese chapter of the second largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah called on the two warring sides to listen to the Acehnese people's plea for dialog, emphasizing that war was not the answer.

"Both sides should have stuck to the deal and maintained it. Didn't we share the happiness when the deal was signed," he said.

He implied that both sides were lacking commitment in establishing peace in the resource-rich province.

Meanwhile, several Acehnese figures expressed their fresh fears of the renewed military operation and called on the two warring parties to pursue dialog to salvage the peace agreement.

The people in northern Aceh who had enjoyed days and nights without any terror, intimidation and gun shots over the past four months, now are fearful again.

"All the traumatic memories from the military operation have returned since the Indonesian Military (TNI) said it might renew that option," Ahmad, a resident of North Aceh told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

"We really fear for our lives, because the the Joint Security Committee (JSC) members have left their office in Lhoksemawe. People are frightened since the recent assassination of rebels and the gunfights between the two sides," he said.

Thamrin Ananda, a student activist from the Aceh People's Democratic Fighters Front (FPDRA), said that a military operation would certainly bring another problem for the Acehnese.

"The history has shown that a military approach only creates more fighting against the government instead of solving the problem," he said.

There should be an extra effort from all sides to stop the TNI from further aggression in Aceh, he added.

Acehnese councillor Nasir Djamil said that the government should have concentrated on providing assistance for the Acehnese and upholding justice.

"We have to optimize the peace deal, which in the past four- months successfully decreased the number of casualties and both sides had to maintain the peace spirit," he said.

The government launched a decade-long military operation between 1989 and 1999 in an attempt to quell the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), but as a result, the conflict was far from settled, while thousands of innocent people were killed.

There have been other attempts to solve the issue, but all have failed to a certain degree.

Influential leaders Syafii Maarif, chairman of Muhammadiyah, Deputy Chairman of the National Commission of Human Rights Solahuddin Wahid and Muslim intellectual Nurcholish Madjid have also called on security authorities to leave the Aceh problem to civilians.

Nurcholish called for the appointment of Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Yusuf Kalla to handle deals with GAM and the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) and replace all military and police personnel in the JSC.

Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Hasyim Muzadi said, however, that he disagreed with the role the government had given to the Switzerland-based human rights organization, the HDC to broker the peace process.

He claimed that the HDC did not have enough knowledge or experience in Aceh to settle the conflict between the TNI and GAM, in addition to its very limited authority to enforce the peace pact.

"HDC does not really understand the situation in Aceh and has no information on the background of each side," Hasyim alleged.