Tue, 09 Nov 1999

Govt urged to use peaceful approach in handling Aceh

JAKARTA (JP): The House of Representatives called on the government on Monday to take immediate and concrete action to cope with conflicts in Aceh peacefully.

"The social conflict in restive Aceh is serious and the Acehnese people are waiting for immediate and concrete action from the government to solve it peacefully. President Abdurahman Wahid should go there immediately to hold a dialog with the people," House Speaker Akbar Tandjung said in his response to a mass rally in Aceh.

Hundreds of thousands of Acehnese thronged the Aceh provincial capital of Banda Aceh on Monday to demand a self-determination referendum for the province.

Akbar said the huge rally represented the disappointment with unfair treatment the Acehnese have long experienced.

"People in the province are bored with the government's promises. They are waiting for concrete action for changes. The government should concentrate on how to curb the injustices and uphold the supremacy of the law," he said.

A legislator from Aceh, Ferry Murdidan Baldan, has urged the government to uphold economic and legal justice by giving the province greater autonomy and trying servicemen involved in human rights violations there in the past.

Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs Surjadi Soedirdja said the Aceh problem could not be solved immediately because not only was the problem complicated, but the nation was taking on numerous serious matters, especially the economic crisis which remains unabated.

He denied that the government turned a blind eye to social injustice and human rights abuses in the province, saying all problems in Aceh would be solved gradually.

"The government has listened to Aceh's aspirations and demands and will accommodate them for the sake of a comprehensive and peaceful solution," he said after addressing a workshop for civil servants at his office here on Monday.

Asked whether the government would hold a dialog with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist rebel group, he said the government would listen to all groups, including the one demanding independence for Aceh.

"No matter what GAM looks like, they are our brothers and we will listen to their aspirations," he said.

He said the government would take the referendum demand into consideration.

"The government will give a serious response by considering their demands and analyzing them," he said, charging that the present condition was not conducive in discussing the issue.

Conversely, Indonesian Military (TNI) spokesman Maj. Gen. Sudrajat expressed his objection to the referendum demand, saying it was not the best way to solve Aceh's complicated problems.

"TNI finds the demand unrealistic. A referendum will only be given to a society which does not yet have a government," he said in Bandung after addressing participants of the Army Staff Command School.

He said that instead of taking to the streets, all parties concerned should meet and discuss how to cope with social, economic and political injustices the Acehnese have stated.

In Yogyakarta, constitutional law expert Harun Alrasyid reiterated that the government had to fight to keep Aceh part of the republic.

"The government must, at all costs, try all means, from a persuasive approach to the use of military force, to maintain the republic's sovereignty over Aceh," he said.

According to Harun, the use of military troops is allowed if peaceful efforts fail to end the movement.

"Any effort to separate Aceh from the rest of the country is considered a coup attempt and, therefore, the government must take firm action against it," he said.

In Semarang, political observer of the Australian National University, Lance Castle, said President Abdurrahman, popularly known as Gus Dur, must move fast in handling Aceh's referendum demand, as well as further realization of the whole matter.

"If the government delays sorting out the Aceh problem, it is likely that the previous referendum call will grow into a demand for freedom," Castle said after addressing a seminar on Soviet Union Disintegration and the Lesson for Indonesia.

Castle also urged the government to take concrete action to solve the Aceh conflict immediately.

Tri Cahyo Utomo, a political observer of Diponegoro University shared Castle's view, saying that Aceh is only an inch away from being separated from the country as calls for independence grow stronger.

"The government must act immediately. It's for the best if Gus Dur, Amien Rais (Assembly speaker) and Megawati Soekarnoputri (Vice President) visit Aceh to resolve the matter," Tri said. (43/44/har/edt/rms)