Fri, 22 Dec 2000

Government to seek broader dialog with Acehnese

JAKARTA (JP): The government said on Thursday that it would seek an all-inclusive dialog with the Acehnese to defuse separatist sentiment in the troubled province.

"The government is now developing a more comprehensive dialog and political communication between Jakarta and the Acehnese," Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said after attending the last Cabinet meeting of the year.

Susilo said the dialog would include members of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the Information Center for Aceh Referendum (SIRA) activists, local ulemas, non-governmental organizations and Acehnese civic leaders.

"So far, the formal dialog has only been conducted between the central government and GAM under the humanitarian pause agreement. So, we have been advised by Acehnese civic leaders to seek other dialog partners," Susilo said.

He added Jakarta would also apply the same approach in Irian Jaya, which is also plagued by rising separatist sentiment.

"One of the President's agendas during his visit to Irian Jaya is to develop a dialog with all elements in the province and not only with the (proindependence) Papua Presidium Council," Susilo said, referring to Abdurrahman Wahid's planned visit to the easternmost province on Monday.

The statement came after Minister of Defense Mahfud MD said on Wednesday that there would be no further negotiations with GAM after the expiration of the humanitarian pause on Jan. 15.

The government and GAM signed a humanitarian pause in May to cease the violence in Aceh. The agreement was extended for another three months in September.

The accord, however, has failed to bring a halt to the violence.

Top security officials have suggested that if by Jan. 15 Abdurrahman's reconciliatory approach failed to bring concrete results, the government would resort to military operations in Aceh.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be a demand for more funds for defense spending, Susilo said the Cabinet meeting also discussed on Tuesday the importance of "looking back at our military and police weaponry" since "security personnel have been endlessly dispatched to trouble spots to restore order".

The government, therefore, hopes the House of Representatives will be "cooperative" so that sufficient funds will be allocated to the defense budget next year, Susilo said.

"We are not suggesting that we should modernize our weaponry but we only want to emphasize that we need to have proper and necessary equipment to do the job effectively," Susilo said.(byg)