Tue, 19 Dec 2000

GAM gets invitation to meet Gus Dur

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): The government remains ready to pencil in the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in a dialog with President Abdurrahman Wahid during his brief visit here today despite the fact that there has been no reply from the separatist group.

Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh on Monday claimed that an invitation had been extended to GAM "to attend individually a dialog with Gus Dur."

Puteh said GAM leaders were invited as "they also form part of Acehnese society."

"However, until now, we have received no confirmation of their attendance from them," he said. "But the important thing is that we have officially extended the invitation."

The President is to make a lightning two-hour stop in the Aceh provincial capital during which he will be flown by a military helicopter from the Sultan Iskandar Muda airport to the downtown Baiturrahman grand mosque.

Puteh, however, played down speculation that security concerns were behind the arrangement.

"We are going to do this because the President will only have a very limited time here," he said.

"Instead of taking a 30-minute drive, the flight from the airport will only take about five minutes," he added.

A special landing pad has already been prepared at the heavily-guarded Blang Padang soccer field, a five-minute walk from the mosque.

Activists and GAM members last week warned of turmoil and even a possible assassination attempt during the presidential visit.

Among the ministers who will also be present here are Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, foreign minister Alwi Shihab, home affairs minister Soerjadi Soedirdja and religious affairs minister Tolchah Hasan.

At least 16 ambassadors from the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) countries would also be in the presidential entourage, Abdullah said.

Abdullah said the main purpose of Abdurrahman's visit would be to mark the day of revelation of the Koran.

Abdullah further revealed that Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri was due to arrive in Sabang, Weh island, later this week to inaugurate its new seaport.

Aside from the tight security preparations being made in and around Banda Aceh, several top security officials also departed for the province on Monday.

Prior to leaving, Susilo told journalists in Jakarta that so far no dialog had been scheduled.

"But if they want to we could fit it into the President's agenda," Susilo remarked.

Susilo, together with Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Adm. Widodo A.S and National Police chief Gen. Surojo Bimantoro left for Aceh on Monday morning.

"I have been informed by the TNI chief about the security preparations taken by our forces there, both the police and military, in order to make the visit secure and successful," he added.

Susilo also appealed to all sides to respect the fasting month by avoiding disturbances during the visit.

"Gus Dur comes to the province to fulfill the Acehnese invitation for him to attend the commemoration of the Nuzulul Qur'an. Please respect this holy event," Susilo remarked.

Separately in Jakarta, TNI Territorial Affairs chief Lt. Gen. Agus Widjojo denied reports that the 2,000 TNI personnel dispatched to the province last week were there to secure the President's visit.

"It's purely a humanitarian mission," Agus claimed.

He further contended that the soldiers were armed for safety reasons so that they could carry out their "civic mission" in certain areas where rebels were known to operate with impunity.

"We know that some regions in Aceh which were hit by the floods are also areas where GAM operates. If our personnel are not armed, how can they work safely there?" Agus said while brushing aside suggestions that it was part of another military operation.

"Two thousand men is too few to conduct a military operation," Agus said.

Meanwhile in Banda Aceh itself on Monday there seemed to be a sense of skepticism and pessimism about the presidential visit.

Tarmizi, a human rights activist from the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute, said the presidential visit would be worthless if the violence and rights abuses persisted.

"There has been false information given to the palace (central government) that the only thing the Acehnese want is Islamic shariah law," he said referring to earlier reports that the President would officially declare the imposition of Islamic law in the province. (02/byg)