Sun, 13 Apr 2003

Leave the Aceh question to civilians: Religious leaders

Suherdjoko The Jakarta Post Semarang

Noted religious leaders and Muslim scholars urged the government on Saturday to leave the Aceh question to civilians to avoid war between the Indonesian military (TNI) and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Syafii Maarif, Solahuddin Wahid and Nurcholis Madjid called on the government to pursue dialog to resolve the decades-long conflict in Aceh once and for all.

"If the government insists on taking military action to settle the Aceh conflict, Aceh will be very, very bloody," said Syafii, chairman of Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim organization with about 30 million members.

Although the government appointed a civilian, Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, as its chief negotiator in talks with GAM, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired four-star general, still calls the shots.

Moreover, the government's representatives on the Joint Security Committee, which is tasked with monitoring the implementation of the peace accord signed between the government and GAM in December 2002, are either military or police personnel. This leaves one with the impression that the Aceh question is a conflict between TNI and GAM.

TNI and police leaders have persistently accused GAM of reneging on the peace accord, pointing particularly at the secessionist movement's continued campaign for independence and failure to meet the disarmament timeline.

Under the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA), GAM agreed to accept the special autonomy status for Aceh as the sole basis for future dialog and lay down arms in stages until July 2003. The government, for its part, agreed to end all military operations and reposition troops from strike positions to defensive ones. Both sides, however, have failed to comply with the agreement.

The government had invited GAM to a Joint Council meeting to discuss the violations but the rebels declined, a move that could be seen as a withdrawal from the peace deal.

Susilo said earlier this week that TNI leaders would brief President Megawati Soekarnoputri on detailed preparations for military operations during a limited Cabinet meeting next week.

Syafii called on both the government and GAM to pursue dialog to settle their differences.

Syafii suggested that Megawati appoint civilians to handle the Aceh issue and give them full authority to resolve the problem once and for all.

"Don't appoint anyone from the military. I would choose Jusuf Kalla as facilitator in the Aceh conflict," Syafii said.

Jusuf Kalla, a respected Golkar politician, is currently the Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare. He, to a certain extent, successfully pacified warring sides in the Maluku and Central Sulawesi provinces, where 8,000 mainly civilian Muslims and Christians have died in bloody religious conflicts.

Solahuddin, meanwhile, said civilians assigned to settle the Aceh question may join the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), a Switzerland-based non-governmental organization that brokered the peace accord signed by the government and GAM on Dec. 9, 2002.

"I think there is still time to settle the Aceh conflict through dialog," said Solahuddin, a chairman of NU, the country's biggest Muslim organization with 50 million members.

According to Solahuddin, who is also a deputy chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights, military operations should never be launched in Aceh.

Noted Muslim scholar Nurcholis concurred with Syafii and Solahuddin, saying the HDC had failed to resolve conflicts in Aceh.

"The government should immediately appoint civilians to handle the Aceh question. The civilians can be Acehnese holding positions in Jakarta," he said.

"Acehnese have a long, proud history of war. They fought the Dutch for 30 years and were never defeated," he warned.