Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Military operation in Aceh fails: Komnas HAM

Muninggar Sri Saraswati The Jakarta Post Jakarta

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) said on Friday that the military operation against the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) had failed and urged both parties to go back to the negotiating table.

The commission's team for Aceh argued that the operation had increased the number of civilian victims from a series of violent acts, including arbitrary arrests, torture, kidnapping, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings.

"The number of (civilian) victims has been increasing since the imposition of martial law on May 19. There are more widows and children who have suffered economically, socially and psychologically," the team said in a statement, which was read by team chairman M.M. Billah.

Billah said that the widows and children suffered "trauma and want to take revenge."

He also said that the military operation had not "won the hearts of the Acehnese people as was expected."

"The military emergency operation has failed to achieve its goal as intended by the Indonesian Military," Billah told reporters. "It has failed because many of the victims are civilians and noncombatants."

The commission angered the military last month when it said it was investigating reports of a mass grave in the restive province.

During the press conference, Billah presented the team's findings after its recent visit to Aceh. The team found a case in which a man whose name was similar to one of the GAM leaders was murdered. The man was arrested without a warrant and was later tortured and murdered.

"One of his family members told us (about the torture and murder)," Billah said.

The commission also said that extrajudical killings, rape and torture had been taking place but it declined to say who was responsible.

The military said that it had killed 338 GAM members since May 19, while more then 600 had either surrendered or been captured.

The military has not been recording civilian deaths, but the police said that 150 civilians had been killed.

Independent verification of death tolls or of allegations of human rights violations is proving difficult.

Billah said that his team strongly urged both the government and GAM to settle the conflict in Aceh, peacefully.

"If they agree we could be their mediator. Or, they could re- appoint the HDC," he said, referring to the Henry Dunant Centre, which facilitated the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement last year.

Military abuses are cited as one of the igniting factors in the formation of the separatist movement which began in 1976. At least 10,000 people have been killed during the bloody conflict in the province.