Sat, 05 Apr 2003

GAM seeks election delay in Aceh

The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Jakarta

The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has called for a delay in the general elections in Aceh until after the holding of an all- inclusive dialog (AID) as stipulated in the peace agreement signed last year.

Under the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed on Dec. 9, 2002, the government and GAM agreed to organize an all-inclusive dialog involving all elements of Acehnese society to review the special autonomy law known as Nangroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) law, followed by a general election to establish a democratic government in Aceh.

Senior GAM member Sofyan Ibrahim Tiba underlined on Friday that the election mentioned in the agreement was not related to the 2004 general election.

"The election mentioned in the agreement would only be conducted after the all-inclusive dialog," Sofyan said.

The Aceh administration, which is authorized to organize the all-inclusive dialog, is yet to convene the meeting supposed to start in early March. No explanation was given by the local government.

The nation-wide voter registration for the 2004 general election started on April 1, and the Aceh Central Statistics Agency (BPS) has recruited 5,000 people to carry out the voter registration in the conflict-torn province.

Sofyan warned that it would be impossible to urge the Acehnese people to join the national election in 2004 if they were not yet sure of the future of Aceh.

"Let the people decide what they want in the all-inclusive dialog and then the election could be conducted in May 2004," he said.

The General Elections Commission (KPU) has set April 5, 2004 as the date for legislative elections, while the two-phase presidential elections are scheduled for between June and August 2004.

Meanwhile, Indonesian chief negotiator in the Aceh issue Wiryono Sastrohandoyo said in Jakarta on Friday that GAM was welcome to participate in the elections but it was unsure if the secessionist movement could act as a political force in the country's westernmost province.

"As Indonesians they have the right to register as voters for the coming election, but it is up to them whether they want to exercise their right or not," Wiryono told The Jakarta Post.

He further underlined that the end goal of the agreement was to ensure that all Acehnese participate in the establishment of a new government in Aceh within the framework of the Unitary State of Indonesia.

The NAD Law, which served as the basis for the peace agreement signed in Geneva, Switzerland last December, was introduced in January 2001 to appease the Acehnese people who had long harbored disappointment over the government's treatment of them.

On a separate occasion, Indonesian Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin said on Friday that it would reevaluate its operation strategy in Aceh to anticipate a possible break down of the peace accord signed last December.

"During the demilitarization process, we (TNI) agreed to relocate our personnel from an offensive position to a defensive position. So did the police. We hope GAM will abide by the agreement by laying down their arms.

"But reports from the field show that the security situation has worsened in Aceh as GAM refuses to lay down its arms and has even recruited more people from a previous 1599 to around 2080. So, we are contemplating embarking on offensive measures to crack down on the separatist group," Sjafrie said in a press conference at TNI headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta, on Friday.

GAM has been fighting for independence for the resource-rich province since 1976 and over 10,000 people, mostly innocent civilians, have been killed since then.