Tue, 04 Sep 2001

Megawati urged to be more concrete on Aceh issues

JAKARTA (JP): Activists here urged President Megawati Soekarnoputri on Monday to take more concrete measures in solving the conflict in Aceh, despite her planned visit this weekend to the province for a dialog.

Munir, co-founder of the National Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), argued that the visit would be ineffective in calming the restive Acehnese unless it also convinced them of Jakarta's good intentions of laying the foundations for a sound future.

"Megawati's visit is certainly valuable for the whole process of solving Aceh's problems, but this symbolic trip should be made in parallel with political policies that guarantee a realistic solution for Aceh," he told journalists at his office.

"If she goes there merely for a question-and-answer session, then she'd be better not going at all," Munir argued.

Woman activist Debra Yatim, who is Acehnese, suggested that Megawati pay more heed to the voice of Acehnese women who had their own perspective on Acehnese problems and who would be able to offer a peaceful solution.

"The visit is a good way of opening communications with the people and it's the right time to hear a plurality of perceptions on the issue since all this time the government and the media are only reacting to one source that is not representative of all the Acehnese," she told The Jakarta Post.

Megawati is slated to visit Aceh on Saturday to convene a meeting with local figures, after it was postponed from last Sunday for unexplained technical reasons, following the growing violence there.

On Monday, State Secretary/Cabinet Secretary Bambang Kesowo announced that the visit had been changed to a one-day trip on Sept. 8 and that there was still no specific agenda for it.

At least 20 people were killed within the last four days in several isolated incidents and clashes related to the separatist movement there; most of the victims were civilians, including an Aceh legislative councillor, Zaini Sulaiman Ishaq.

Megawati has apologized to the Acehnese people for decades of human rights abuses, a move many analysts have welcomed but have said needed to be backed up by concrete investigations.

Munir insisted that Megawati cease offensive military operations and speed up legal proceedings against human rights abuses in the province, especially cases that had been identified by the government.

He said that Jakarta ought to change its point of view in understanding the problems of Aceh and start to see them through the eyes of the Acehnese who had lost faith in the government and were therefore striving for independence.

"Both Presidential Instruction No. 4/2000 on a comprehensive way to resolve Aceh's problems and the government's offer of the Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam special autonomy law failed to take into account what the Acehnese people really need.

"Special autonomy is only a shift of authority from the minister of home affairs to the governor, but not of the power itself. Jakarta has to listen more to the Acehnese people and consider more of their ideas," he said.

Separately, People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais urged the government to implement immediately the special autonomy law and speed up the disbursement of budgetary allocations for Aceh.

"I urged a quick implementation of the special autonomy law. I really consider the law to be the major factor that may regain the trust of the Acehnese in the central government," Amien told journalists after a meeting with Vice President Hamzah Haz.

"I also gave a reminder that the people of Aceh might be furious because the province has only received some 30 percent of the allocated state budget, although it has been in effect for more than six months," he further underlined.

Amien applauded Megawati's visit plan and suggested she stay in the province for two or three days.

"I believe that the separatist movement will not cause any disturbance while the President is in the province. It would bring much joy to the Acehnese if the President could stay and even visit other areas besides Banda Aceh," he remarked. (bby/dja)