Thu, 03 Apr 2003

NGOs move to save peace agreement in Aceh

Nani Farida and Tiarma Siboro The Jakarta Post Banda Aceh/Jakarta

Activists representing 41 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Aceh have launched a month-long campaign to save the five- month-old peace agreement that has nearly ended almost three decades of armed conflict there.

Risman A. Rahman, coordinator of the NGO-HAM human rights watchdog, said for the whole of April the organizations would call for awareness of the civilian community in the war-torn province about the peace agreement signed by the Indonesian government and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in talks brokered by the Henry Dunant Centre in Geneva on Dec. 9 last year.

The campaign, calls for a peaceful, violent-free month to save the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) and the people of Aceh. It was declared on Tuesday at the Joint Security Committee (JSC) office in the Aceh capital of Banda Aceh.

"We realize that if the peace agreement fails, the civilian community will suffer the most," Risman said.

During the campaign, the activists will create a service to receive complaints of violations of the peace accord, organize discussions and call on both Jakarta and GAM to comply with the peace agreement.

He said the move was prompted by demonstrations in several parts of the natural-resource rich province against JSC.

Risman said he suspected that these were attempts to break down the truce, as reflected by the rallies, widespread illegal fees imposed on people and the creation of militia groups apparently opposed to GAM.

He admitted that the peace agreement was fragile due to its weak enforcement, but at least it had significantly curbed the amount of violence.

"It's wiser therefore to criticize and improve the implementation of the truce, rather than trying to tear it apart," he said.

Another rights activist, Rufriadi, said the promotion of the peace agreement had not given the civilian community enough of a role to play. Instead civilian involvement ends up in arrests for alleged provocation, he said.

He was referring to the disappearance of NGO activists Muklis and Zulfikar, whom rights activists claimed as victims of abduction by military personnel.

Rufriadi said six other activists had been targeted by security authorities for criticizing the weak implementation of the peace agreement.

The accord requires the military to relocate to defensive positions and the National Police to reformulate Mobile Brigade personnel into ordinary police officers. It also calls for GAM to lay down its arms over a five-month period between Feb. 9 and July 9.

The NGOs move contradicted the government's fresh warning that the peace deal could break down because of repeated violations by GAM.

Speaking after a weekly meeting in Jakarta on Tuesday, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the government would ask JSC to intervene in and correct the implementation of the peace accord due to the violations.

"I will invite HDC chairman Martin Griffith and GAM representative Malik Mahmud for a meeting here within a week to talk about steps to be taken to respond to the current situation which has apparently worsened," Susilo said.

Both Martin and Malik live in Switzerland.

Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, Indonesia's chief negotiator who attended the meeting, refused to comment on it. He just said: "I wish the government could be wise."