Sun, 03 Sep 2000

Gus Dur agrees to Aceh humanitarian pause extension

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid has chosen temporarily to extend the expired three-month humanitarian pause in Aceh pending further negotiations between the government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), a minister announced on Saturday.

Speaking to journalists after meeting with the President at Merdeka Palace, Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Lt. Gen. (ret) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed confidence a more definite humanitarian interval soon would be reached with GAM.

"We see, based on its press statement, GAM is apparently willing to prolong the pause and we welcome the gesture," Susilo said.

He added that the President's decision was based on the results of the Cabinet meeting on Thursday. He also indicated the government had received an official message from GAM voicing its willingness to lengthen the truce.

Without elaborating, the minister said the government would submit new conditions for the extension of the humanitarian pause. He also failed to reveal the length of the extension.

Susilo said the government delegation negotiating with GAM was still headed by the directory general for political affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hassan Wirajuda.

Hassan signed the initial agreement with GAM in Switzerland in May. The humanitarian pause came into effect on June 2 and expired on Saturday.

"In principle the government will extend it temporarily while awaiting a new consensus on a more definitive period of time," Susilo said.

GAM spokesman Tengku Maad Muda said on Thursday his organization was ready to accept any decision by the government, including the termination of the agreement.

"For us, it is OK if the truce is ended or prolonged," Maad said in Pidie.

The town of Pidie was still 'dead' on Saturday, as most of its residents had stopped their daily activities since Friday following a call from local figures, who asked them to fast and say prayers for peace.

The residents gathered at mosques and said prayers. They said they hoped that the humanitarian pause would be extended.

In a related development, Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra announced on Friday night the President had signed two government regulations in lieu of a law dealing with Sabang Port.

Yusril clearly linked the issuance of the government regulations with the extension of the truce with GAM, although the separatist movement is not directly involved in the status of the port.

The President visited the port, located on the island of Weh, in January, promising to restore its status as a free port and bonded zone.

Then president Soeharto revoked its free port status in 1984, following his decision to establish Batam island as a bonded zone.

According to the first government regulation issued by Abdurrahman, as a free port zone, economic activities such as banking, transportation and tourism will be allowed at Sabang.

To implement this first regulation, the President signed the second government regulation, which also took effect on Friday.

"Because the humanitarian pause expired on Sept. 2, the government was facing an emergency situation, which is why we issued the two regulations," Yusril said.

The government regulations stipulate Sabang is exempt from customs, excise duties, value added taxes and sales taxes on luxury goods.

"The return of Sabang's status as a free port and trade zone is expected to encourage the people of Aceh to pursue economic activities, so that they will decide to stay with the Republic of Indonesia," Yusril said after meeting with the President.

Yusril is scheduled to travel to Aceh in the near future to advertise the benefits of Sabang's new status for the people in the province.

Sabang Mayor Sofyan Haroen, who accompanied Yusril during the meeting with Abdurrahman, said Sabang would become the center of the oil and petrochemical industry, fisheries and tourism. (prb/51)