Thu, 10 Apr 2003

`GAM in material breach of peace agreement'

The withdrawal of 100 international monitoring officers from remote areas in Aceh by the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) following violent attacks on its facilities is just one of the latest disheartening developments since the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was signed by the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) on Dec. 9 in Geneva. The Jakarta Post's Ati Nurbaiti talked to government negotiator Wiryono Sastrohandoyo on the issue. The following is an excerpt from the interview:

Question: Given the current situation, where do we stand regarding the agreement?

Answer: Four months after signing the agreement, we have seen these violations. GAM continues to enunciate independence while the starting point of the agreement is the acceptance of the Law on Aceh's autonomy. It's been forcefully recruiting young people (in reference to the agreement against intimidation), and installing regents and subdistrict heads, which is tantamount to a shadow government, smuggling guns (in reference to the agreement against the addition of military equipment during the "confidence-building period") and engaging in extortion, which they cynically call the Nanggroe (state of Aceh) tax. Weapons have also not been placed in stores yet.

GAM has been in material breach of the agreement.

Q: Is the government demanding an investigation into these charges?

A: No, we are asking for the convening of the Joint Council.

We are invoking articles 8 and 9 of the agreement. Article 8 says the council will resolve all issues which cannot be resolved by other committees or structures established under the agreement.

Article 9 says that if the council is unable to resolve the matter within no less than 30 days, then the agreement will not be able to be implemented ("either party has the right to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement").

There have been declining casualties (from violence) since the agreement was signed, but the pact has been destroyed by those violations by GAM.

Q: So what is the position of the government?

A: The government prefers a peaceful solution to the problem but it strives more for the integrity and unity of Indonesia and that is nonnegotiable, and that's clearly the objective of the agreement. It should be the position of every Indonesian.

Q: There are fears that a statement from President Megawati Soekarnoputri that the Indonesian Military (TNI) should prepare for operations if GAM ignores efforts to salvage the truce, could be taken as authorizing the TNI to take over security matters in those regions. Your comment?

A: There is much to be criticized about the military but one must speak the language of the agreement.

Maintenance of law and order in Aceh will continue to be the responsibility of the National Police, as should be the case in a sovereign state.

The TNI is not mentioned in the agreement but it's possible that the government will request that it help the police implement their function.

Q: The agreement was seen as the last hope for Aceh...

A: No, it was to be followed by an all-inclusive dialog and an election in 2004. It's a major breakthrough.

Q: Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have tried what appears to be a last ditch effort to save the agreement. Can it help?

A: It can only be saved if the above violations stop.

Q: Would it have helped if the government was more solid, or if the leadership was more firm?

A: I am not in the position to criticize the government here.

Q: Do you think the government has done its best?

A: Yes, the government took a political risk. Legislators said it was the wrong step to take even though the seeking of a peaceful solution to Aceh was instructed by the People's Consultative Assembly. There has also been criticism from (the military).

The policy of the government is right, but basically the government of Megawati Soekarnoputri has inherited the problems from the government before.

I think the policy is correct and needs to be supported.

We've sent a delegation to Rome to meet the Pope and appeal for peace, we've conducted daily demonstrations all over the country against the war in Iraq -- and here is a peace deal in our own province, but there is a lack of support for it.

The agreement needs support and violators should be called violators.

There were injustices in the past, yes, but this government is trying to correct them.

The Acehnese are more advanced, they see the agreement as a peace agreement, not merely as a "Cessation of Hostilities" agreement.

Q: Do you feel that there is enough international support for the agreement?

A: There's nobody who is not supportive (of the government's position). The leaders of the European Union, the United States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations Secretary-General (Kofi Annan) have sent their congratulations.

GAM is facilitating the hawks here by behaving the way they behave -- they've provided the hawks in government with ammunition.

Q: Surely GAM would have foreseen such a backlash?

A: They don't seem to understand the situation. This is their best chance to come out as an organization striving for peace.

This agreement gives them a way to be respectable.

The purpose of the agreement was to take the guns out of politics.

Q: What should be done if the Joint Council fails and there are strong calls for independence?

A: The agreement is already clear (based on the acceptance of the Law on Aceh's autonomy); we're not going to change the agreement.

The agreement is not perfect, but it is good enough.

Q: How urgent is it to have the Joint Council convene?

A: Very urgent; two months after the signing (of the agreement) there was growing confidence that GAM would begin storing its weapons. Now it's April and not a single weapon has been placed in weapon stores.

Q: Could different perceptions of the agreement be one of the reasons for its perceived violations, for instance, the possible misunderstanding on the part of GAM to just place its arms in its own warehouse?

A: That is not a misinterpretation, that is an intentional violation, a contradiction of the agreement.