Fri, 03 Jan 2003

HDC defends Filipino observers

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh

The Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) defended on Thursday the presence of observers from the Philippines in its monitoring team despite complaints by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

HDC project manager in Aceh David Gorman said that all observers, be they representatives of GAM, the Indonesian government, or HDC, could work hand in hand.

"Observers from the Philippines can work with team members, including GAM," David told The Jakarta Post here on Thursday.

Currently, there are six observers from the Philippines working in the monitoring team under HDC, which brokered the peace agreement between GAM and Jakarta that was signed on Dec. 9, 2002.

Earlier, GAM called for the withdrawal of Filipino delegation over charges it was biased against the rebels since their government was waging war against Muslim rebels in southern Philippines. That prompted the Philippine government to delay sending additional military observers to Aceh.

The Philippines is expected to send a total of 25 military observers who will join the Joint Security Committee (JSC) representing HDC.

David said he had no idea why GAM had rejected the Filipino observers as members of the monitoring team. He said the rejection had not become an issue in the field. "They can work together," he said, referring to observers from GAM and Philippines.

According to him, HDC chose monitoring members from the Philippines not because of their nationality, but their professionalism.

Meanwhile, six observers from Thailand arrived at the Sultan Iskandar Muda airport at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

The observers will be monitoring the implementation of the Dec. 9 peace accord between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in regencies throughout the troubled Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) province.

Another delegation of Filipino observers was expected to come in the next few days, Antara reported.

Fahmi Yunus, a spokesman for Peace through Dialog -- a peace promoting program of HDC, said those observers would be stationed in different regencies.

He added that before their deployment, all observers from Indonesia, GAM representatives, and HDC would be briefed for one week in Banda Aceh.

Seventy-two observers had been deployed in eight regencies since Dec. 28, 2002 to monitor security after the peace agreement.

Fahmi said the second deployment of observers would take place at the end of January so that each delegation would have 48 members.

The work of the monitoring team would then be reported to the Joint Security Committee (JSC) stationed in Banda Aceh.

Meanwhile AFP reported that Indonesian soldiers and police had gunned down a separatist rebel and freed two civilians who had been held hostage.

Police spokesman Taufik Sutiyono said the GAM member was killed in a 15-minute shootout at Kuala Baru, Sungai village, in southern district of Singkil late on Tuesday.

He added the joint team of 11 police and soldiers freed two civilians but other guerrillas escaped. The GAM leader in Banda Aceh said he had not received a report on the incident.

At least 10 people have been killed since the agreement was signed.