Tue, 04 Sep 2001

Mega's planned visit to Aceh

It seems inevitable that Indonesian observers would question whether it is necessary for President Megawati to personally visit the province of Aceh. Only recently a high-powered government mission of 10 Cabinet ministers went to the province to find out what the people there really want.

As we all know, the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) is demanding outright independence from Indonesia. But Jakarta can only grant the province special autonomy within the republic of Indonesia. GAM leaders are insisting that police and Army troops stationed in the province to maintain security, law and order, be withdrawn first before any dialog can be started. Such a precondition is unacceptable to the central government, which fears that withdrawal of security troops would allow GAM extremists to terrorize the neutral population.

Meanwhile, clashes between troops and GAM elements resulting in fatalities continue to take place. Vice President Hamzah Haz's visit should have been enough to show Jakarta's goodwill. The GAM commander has told a national television interviewer bluntly that he does not see any usefulness in Megawati visiting Aceh and starting a dialog with leaders of the rebel movement so long as there are troops in the province.

These views seem very far apart from each other and any compromise looks impossible to achieve. If the principle of majority rule is to be applied, it should first be known what percentage wants to stay within the republic and what percentage strives for an independent Aceh state. This can be brought about through a referendum with international supervision, an idea already rejected by the previous administration.

Aceh is too precious to be given up like the former province of East Timor. Both parties should in theory be satisfied with the new arrangement of greater regional autonomy where revenue from the province can be shared under a fair deal.

So rightly or wrongly, there are some analysts who do not see the urgency for Megawati to personally visit the troubled province at the moment where hostile and armed GAM elements are difficult to control in sowing terror and unrest. There is nothing that the President does not already know from the visit of her Cabinet ministers and from the pro-Jakarta governor or from the police or the military reports.

Originally Megawati was to visit Aceh for a so-called fruitful dialog with GAM leaders on Sept. 2, 2001. But for the plan was suddenly postponed. This seem to be a fortunate development, at least, for the time being.