Tue, 26 Sep 2000

Humanitarian pause in Aceh gets new life

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): The Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) have agreed to extend the humanitarian pause in the restive province and begin talks on a political solution to the Aceh issue.

The agreement was reached by representatives of the government and GAM during talks in Geneva on Sunday evening. The talks were hosted by the Swiss-based advocacy group Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

The three-month truce originally came into effect on June 2, and will now remain effective until January.

In a brief statement issued in Geneva, representatives of the Indonesian government and GAM said they had "agreed to enter exploratory talks in order to arrive at a lasting and comprehensive political solution for Aceh".

The statement gave no timetable or details of the talks.

The statement said the two sides "agreed to significantly improve the effectiveness of the humanitarian pause" and to send a truce-monitoring team to the four areas of Aceh most negatively affected by violence.

The two sides also "reconfirmed their commitment to the early and safe return of internally displaced people to their homes and to prevent a new exodus, as well as to the safety of humanitarian workers", Reuters reported.

AFP quoted GAM negotiator Abdullah Zaini as saying in Geneva at the end of the two days of discussions that "we agreed to extend the truce until the sixth of January".

A rebel movement seeking independence for the province on the northern tip of Sumatra has been simmering for several years, however the movement's activities have escalated over the last 18 months.

The Indonesian government agreed on Sept. 2 to conditionally extend the truce for one month, saying it would evaluate the situation, while demanding GAM come to the negotiating table to discuss a lasting solution.

Government officials, however, have repeatedly stressed that independence is not an option they would be willing to discuss.

Both sides have accused the other of violating the truce, with rebels continuing their guerrilla attacks and assassination-style killings over the past few weeks, while police have stepped up their security sweeps.


Meanwhile in Aceh, the violence continued even as negotiators in Geneva were inking an extension to the humanitarian pause.

Government and police facilities continued to be targeted by rebels.

Pidie Police chief Supt. Heru Budi Ersanto said a bomb attack by armed rebels destroyed the Pidie regency office on Monday morning.

"The bombing took place at 9 a.m., but there were no casualties as the office staff had not yet arrived at the time of the explosion," he said.

The office is located on Jl. Raya Banda Aceh-Medan in North Sumatra, directly in front of the Pidie Military District Command.

Police, including personnel from the bomb squad, were deployed to comb the area for evidence and additional explosive devices.

Heru said police planned to summon the office's security guards who were on duty at the time of the attack as part of their investigation.

The incident continues a relentless series of bomb attacks which have taken place over the past week.

A bomb and arson attack on Sunday destroyed the official residence of Aceh Besar Regent Sayuti Ismail. The regent was out of town at the time of the explosion and there were no fatalities in the attack.

Meanwhile, Aceh Besar Police chief Supt. Sayed Hoesainy said police disarmed on Monday morning a homemade bomb planted in a local tax office on Jl. Daud Beureuh in Banda Aceh regency.

He said staff at the office discovered the bomb on the second floor of the building. Police suspect the bomb was planted on Sunday evening.

"Shortly after the bomb was found security guards alerted our office and we went to the scene and managed to disarm it," Sayed said.

He added that the powerful explosive was designed to be detonated from a long distance.

This was the third bomb in the past week police successfully disarmed. (50/lup)