Fri, 09 May 2003

More groups oppose military action in Aceh

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Cries of opposition against an imminent military operation in Aceh have grown louder, as the Indonesian Military (TNI) sends thousands more soldiers to quell separatists in the war-torn province.

Acehnese figures in Jakarta grouped under the Forum for Aceh Concern met with House of Representatives (DPR) Speaker Akbar Tandjung on Thursday to demand that legislators push for a peaceful solution to the Aceh issue.

Headed by former House deputy speaker Ismail Hasan Metareum, the group called on the government to stick to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA), which it signed with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists last year.

"We thank God for the peace agreement. Aceh's problems can be resolved if the agreement is implemented consistently," Metareum said during the meeting with Akbar.

Fellow Acehnese Amran Zamzani accused the Aceh provincial administration of not doing enough to make the peace accord work. He said the local administration should have done more to disseminate the contents of the COHA to the public to ensure all sides stuck to the agreement.

COHA aims to first put an end to the violence. This largely worked in the first two months, with only sporadic violence marring the agreement. But the second phase of relocating GAM weapons and TNI moving into a defensive position failed to materialize as expected.

GAM is believed to be holding onto its weapons while violence intensified in some parts of the province by alleged pro-Jakarta militias. Many fear the militias were TNI's proxies.

The level of violence is relatively still low, but it was intensifying in the weeks before the government called for the Joint Council meeting, a last resort to salvage the peace accord.

Moreover, efforts to get the warring sides to attend the Joint Council ran into a brick wall over reasons many called trivial.

Attempts to make the Joint Council work appear to have also dissipated, overshadowed by war preparations.

Over 26,000 troops and 14,000 police personnel are stationed in Aceh. Reinforcements are expected in the coming days.

Acehnese councillors issued on Thursday a statement rejecting the war plans.

"Violence will never lead to a solution, and will only create more violence," said councillor Teuku Syaiful Achmad.

Fellow legislator Mawardi Abdullah warned that launching a war in Aceh violated People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) decree No. VI/2002, which mandates the government to maintain talks with GAM and other elements of Aceh's society.

The MPR is the highest law-making body in Indonesia.

The Acehnese have openly and consistently rejected a new military operation, and are urging Indonesia to return to the negotiating table.

A 10-year military operation in Aceh that ended in 1998 resulted in thousands of deaths, mainly civilians.

Despite its rich natural resources, the province remains underdeveloped and much of its population of 4.2 million is poor.

Environmental destruction has worsened due to the presence of illegal loggers, in which TNI-owned companies are allegedly involved.

Still, the Acehnese's voices have largely been ignored. President Megawati Soekarnoputri turned down a meeting with Acehnese leading figures on Wednesday.

Human rights campaigner Todung Mulya Lubis said separatism could not be tolerated in any country in the world.

However, he added, this did not justify military action.

He also urged the government to stick to the COHA, which was the product of two years of tough talks under mediation by the Swiss-based Henry Dunant Centre (HDC).

Violations are normal in any agreement as fragile as the COHA, he said. "But any violation should be brought to the Joint Council meeting, instead of making the military operation an option," Todung told The Jakarta Post.

President B.J. Habibie revoked the military operation status (DOM) in Aceh in 1998 to ease the suffering of the Acehnese.

"We have to take a lesson from the decade of DOM, which has only inflicted a sense of revenge, injury and pain," Todung said.

Another Acehnese community leader in Jakarta, Mawardi Ismail, said he would continue to press for peace despite the ongoing military preparations.

"If more people join the antiwar campaign, the government will be at least careful (in its decision-making)," Mawardi told the Post.