Fri, 11 Apr 2003

Govt signals war as GAM says no to Joint Council meet

Tiarma Siboro and Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Hope for a peaceful solution to the Aceh issue faded on Thursday when the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) declined to attend a Joint Council meeting to discuss violations of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said GAM had sent a letter to the government to announce that it would not attend the meeting.

GAM, according to Susilo, considers a Joint Council meeting at this point to be unnecessary because the Joint Security Committee (JSC), which is in charge of monitoring the implementation of the peace agreement, "is able to handle the current situation in Aceh".

Susilo said the government had decided to give GAM five days to reverse its position.

The government requested the meeting after accusing GAM of reneging on the peace agreement signed in December 2002.

Under a peace accord brokered by the Swiss-based Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), the government and GAM agreed to halt all hostilities in the province, where a decades-long armed conflict has left more than 10,000 people dead, most of them innocent civilians.

As part of the accord, GAM, which has been fighting for independence for the resource-rich province since 1976, also agreed to accept special autonomy as the sole basis for future negotiations.

The movement also agreed to lay down its arms in a series of stages to be completed by July 9, at which time GAM is expected to have stored all of its weapons.

Under the accord, the government agreed to halt all military operations in the province and redeploy its troops from offensive to defensive positions.

Both sides, however, have failed to meet the timeline and conditions agreed upon in the deal. GAM continues to nurture aspirations of independence and has failed to lay down its arms, while the government has not completely redeployed its troops to defensive positions.

Susilo said the government considered GAM's refusal to attend the Joint Council meeting as a sign that it had no intention of complying with the accord.

According to the peace accord, any violation of the agreement must be discussed within the JSC. Should the security committee fail to resolve the violation, a Joint Council meeting may be convened. If the council is unable to resolve the dispute, either party is free to quit the accord.

"We have to prepare other plans ... that is military operations to maintain the country's territorial integrity. I am not saying that the operations will immediately solve the problems in Aceh, but it is the last resort," Susilo said.

The minister said Indonesian Military chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto was scheduled to brief President Megawati Soekarnoputri on any future military operations in Aceh during a limited Cabinet meeting next week.

"Any military operations would be well planned in order to avoid unnecessary human rights violations. These may be cloudy days for the Acehnese, but believe me it is not doomsday," Susilo said.

The security situation in Aceh has deteriorated and physical threats against the international peace monitors in the province have increased. At least three JSC offices have been attacked recently by mobs of people angered by what they see as the JSC's failure to stop extortion and abductions by members of GAM.

In Aceh, HDC representatives David Gorman would not confirm GAM's decision not to attend the Joint Council meeting, saying only that his organization would continue to seek a time for all parties to sit down together and discuss crucial matters related to the future of the peace agreement.

"Up until now the peace deal is still effective and I ask both Indonesia and GAM to abide by the deal," Gorman told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

He also said that the peace agreement "does not include an independence option but focuses on peaceful efforts to settle the conflict".

Meanwhile, Teungku Jamaika, GAM spokesman for the Pasee region, said his group would honor the peace deal because "after more than 26 years of fighting dialog is the only solution".

"If armed conflict continues to take place here, it is because we have to defend ourselves from attack.

"We are ready to challenge the government should it insist on launching military operations here ... but the world will see that it is not GAM that has decided to withdraw from the peace accord," Jamaika said.