Wed, 30 Apr 2003

HDC close to setting new date for Aceh talks

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Aceh peace facilitator, the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), is now trying to set a new date and venue for peace talks between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), after the former pulled out of a planned Joint Council meeting in Geneva last week.

HDC representative David Gorman said at a press conference in Banda Aceh on Tuesday that he hoped to set a date within the next few days.

"Everybody wants the meeting (to happen) as soon as possible," Gorman was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

In Jakarta, legislators urged the government to initiate a peace dialog with the rebels in a bid to salvage the fragile peace in the troubled province.

Thai General Tanongsuk Tuvinun, who heads the Joint Security Committee (JSC), told Acehnese on Tuesday to ignore rumors of an impending military operation in the province, where 26 years of armed conflict had killed over 10,000 people, mostly civilians.

"Spreading rumors can kill the peace process and the hope of the Acehnese to live in peace," Tanongsuk said, urging both parties to avoid provocative actions.

The JSC is in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) signed in Geneva, Switzerland, on Dec. 9.

The government angrily withdrew from the long-awaited peace talks last Thursday after the rebels insisted on holding the meeting on April 27 instead of April 25, as it had proposed earlier.

On Monday, the government gave GAM a two-week ultimatum to accept the special autonomy arrangement for the province and disarm, or face the full brunt of military prowess.

Jakarta also said it would not make the first move to initiate dialog and left it entirely up to GAM to call a meeting to save the accord.

While endorsing the government's two-week ultimatum, legislators urged the government on Tuesday to take the lead in organizing a dialog with GAM rebels.

Ibrahim Ambong, chairman of the House of Representatives (DPR) Commission I for defense, called on the government to extend the deadline if the security condition in the province improved.

Ambong, a member of the Golkar faction, said that the deadline set by the government was important, because it provided a clear timeframe for resolving Aceh's problems.

He suggested that the government should continue the peace process as mandated in a decree issued by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Commission member Imam Addaruqutni of the Reform faction said the two-week deadline should be contextualized within the peace process.

"Therefore, military operations should not automatically be launched after the deadline, if GAM does not respond," he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Noted Acehnese figure Imam Suja' said that he was expecting the HDC to continue lobbying the government and GAM to reschedule the Joint Council meeting.

"Everything must be brought to the Joint Council meeting. There will be no problems if the government and GAM follow the COHA," Suja' told the Post by phone.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara commented that the government should focus on a peace dialog to settle Aceh's problems.

He added that law enforcement operations in Aceh would be considered normal, because Aceh was part of the Indonesian territory, and that it should combat crimes committed by all Indonesian people, including GAM members.

Separately, Assembly Speaker Amien Rais said the government could ignore the MPR decree if the existence of the unitary republic of Indonesia was threatened.

Amien, who chairs the National Mandate Party (PAN), emphasized that the existence of the republic was of greater importance than the MPR decree or the 1945 Constitution.

"This is an objective choice and is universally accepted," Amien said.