Wed, 21 May 2003

Int'l community decries war in Aceh and calls for peace

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan led the international community in asking the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to return to the negotiating table to restore peace in Aceh.

In a statement issued Monday, Annan said he was "deeply concerned" about reports of renewed fighting in Aceh with the imposition of martial law in the province.

"He remains convinced of the need to resolve the problems in Aceh peacefully, in a manner consistent with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Indonesia.

"The Secretary-General, therefore, urges all parties concerned to do their utmost to restore the peace process in Aceh", the statement said.

The statement also mentioned that Annan was "disappointed" that, after two days of meetings in Tokyo, the Indonesian government and GAM failed to reach an agreement to resume implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA), which was signed in December 2002.

"Despite setbacks in its implementation, the Agreement had brought real improvements in the daily life of the population in Aceh," the statement said.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh just hours after peace talks with GAM in Tokyo broke down late Sunday, paving the way for massive military offensive against GAM.

The United States also decried the war in Aceh and called on both the government and GAM to resume negotiations.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Indonesian government and GAM had forfeited a rare opportunity in Tokyo to advance the peace process.

"It's our judgment that the possible avenues to a peaceful resolution were not fully explored at the Tokyo conference and that steps incompatible with a determined approach to negotiations undermined the process," Boucher was quoted by Agence France Presse as saying.

Reuters reported that mediators blamed Jakarta for the failed weekend talks, saying the government came with additional conditions that made dialogue impossible. Jakarta had insisted the rebels explicitly give up demands for independence.

Boucher said the U.S. government maintained its support for the territorial integrity of Indonesia and for the peaceful resolution of the Aceh conflict based on special autonomy.

However, it said that, "At the same time, it does regard the problem of Aceh as one that is not amenable to a solution by use of military force."

Separately, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also expected both the government and GAM to go back to the diplomatic path.

"We hope that it's going to be possible to get back on to the diplomatic path before too long," Downer said.

Australia, he said, had consistently backed efforts to develop a special autonomy package for Aceh, which would supposedly implemented peacefully.

Downer said the U.N. could not become involved in the conflict as Indonesia had jurisdiction in Aceh.

"What the international community is saying (to the Indonesian government and GAM) ... is we wish that they would negotiate this," he said.

Meanwhile, dozens of anti-war activists from more than 30 countries who had a discussion in Jakarta on the global antiwar movement, regretted the military approach the government had taken to attempt to solve the Aceh problem.

"We demand the government stop military operations in Aceh immediately and both parties continue negotiations to salvage the peace accord," Walden Bello, a delegate from the Philippines, told a press conference in Jakarta on Tuesday.

He expressed his and other activists' fears that the military, which has a poor record on human rights, would continue to abuse civilians.

"We question why the government allows this to happen. Is it something they believe in or is the military pushing the government to take that decision?" asked Bello, saying the government and GAM could still restore peace in Aceh.

The conflict in Aceh since GAM took arms in 1976 has taken the lives of more than 10,000 people, most of whom were civilians.