Thu, 19 Jun 2003

'Focus on humanitarian operation'

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government should not focus only on the military operation but also simultaneously carry out a humanitarian program as part of the integrated operation to restore security and order in the war-torn Aceh, says a military observer.

Rizal Sukma of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said the month-long military offensive to crush the armed rebellion would not achieve its target should no humanitarian programs be carried out to help the people and refugees affected by the war.

"The military operation should merely be a part of the government's integrated efforts to restore security and order in Aceh," he said during a discussion on the military operation here on Wednesday.

Rizal, also a senior researcher with the CSIS, said further that the government should give priority to an operation to provide humanitarian assistance to the Acehnese people affected by the war.

Entering the fifth week of the military offensive to crush the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the number of people fleeing their homes has been continuously increasing, with some of the refugees now facing health problems in the refuge camps both inside and outside the province. Many other Acehnese have been facing economic problems as they cannot go about their daily activities to earn a living.

According to Rizal, the overemphasis on the military side of the operation could be seen from the frequent attacks on suspected members of GAM in their strongholds and the forced removal of civilians to refugee camps.

"But, our past experiences have shown us that military operations which are not accompanied by humanitarian programs will not be able to fully overcome separatist problems. We could be facing the same experience in Aceh," said Rizal, referring to a previous military operation in the province from 1989 through 1998.

It was a dark time for the Acehnese, with violations of human rights perpetrated by the military being rampant in the province.

Learning from the this experience, the government should pay more attention to carrying out humanitarian programs to help Acehnese suffering from the war, said Rizal.

"The military should be able to win the hearts and minds of the Acehnese in an attempt to isolate the separatist movement," he said.

The proper handling of refugees, the upholding of law and the bringing about of reconciliation among the conflicting parties in Aceh, including an amnesty for surrendering rebels, should be carried out simultaneously with the military operation, he said.

Meanwhile, Hasnan Habib, another military observer, warned that the alleged human rights abuses in the province could put the military in a difficult situation after the war and tarnish its image both at home and overseas.

He said that the TNI should reduce human rights violations as to the minimum possible and fight "a clean war" so as to win international understanding and support for the military offensive.

The former chief of the Indonesian Military's territorial affairs unit, Lt. Gen. (ret) Agus Widjojo, said that it was too early to make an evaluation as the military operation was still going on.