Fri, 11 Apr 2003

`No more security approach in Aceh'

Nani Farida and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Pressures are mounting for the government to maintain the peace deal it signed with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), instead of reviving its militaristic approach to solving the problems in the province.

"Even if the chance to adopt a peaceful settlement (in Aceh) is small, we must go for it," House of Representatives legislator Sutradara Gintings told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

He said the demilitarization process under the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was to end in July and therefore, it was too premature to say the peace deal was not working.

"There is still four months left to look into the implementation of the peace deal before declaring it a failure," Sutradara, of the minority Indonesian Nationhood faction, said.

Law enforcement, as well as social and economic justice, should be implemented simultaneously as part of the government policy in Aceh, rather than pursuing a militaristic approach, he said.

"But if GAM continues to proclaim independence and increase armed resistance against the government, we can say the peace deal has been broken," he said.

He suggested that the public and media scrutinize the military's conduct to prevent any human rights violations if the use of force became unavoidable in Aceh.

The government has repeatedly accused GAM of not complying with the peace agreement, pointing particularly to the group's continued campaign for independence and its refusal to lay down arms as stipulated in the agreement.

Jakarta has filed a formal request for a Joint Council meeting, a move that could lead to its withdrawal from the agreement.

Meanwhile, several people in Aceh interviewed by the Post said they were still traumatized by the militaristic approach adopted by the government in the past to settle the secessionist conflict in the resource-rich province.

"I am still traumatized by the past presence of the military in Aceh. Every day, we saw people die," said Aisyah, a 40-year- old resident of Cot Krueng village.

"But after the peace deal was signed, Aceh has become safe, and we do not have to be worry about going outdoors."

Aisyah, a mother of three, is a vendor at Aceh Market, the largest traditional market in Aceh. Her husband works as a pedicab driver.

Aisyah said she was happy with the presence of the Joint Security Committee (JSC) peace monitor in Aceh, as it had helped to bring peace to the province.

"Since the JSC's arrival in Aceh, there has been no fighting and we can return home at night, so I'm happy with their being here," she said.

She hoped the JSC could resolve the problems and maintain peace in Aceh. "As an ordinary citizen, I support peace," Aisyah said.

Teungku Abdullah, who lives in Lhamreung village, Aceh Besar regency, agreed with Aisyah.

"Please, don't restart the military operation. It frightens me," he said.

Transportation workers also believed that the peace must be salvaged.

"Trucks and buses have never been set on fire after the JSC arrived here," a truck driver, Udin, said.

He said he had once participated in a peaceful rally in front of the JSC office, asking for the elimination of illegal transportation fees.

"I wonder if there is a protest demanding for the dissolution of the JSC. Maybe it doesn't come from the people, because we need the JSC to maintain peace," he said.

Last Sunday, a mob of around 1,500 people attacked and ransacked the JSC office in Langsa, East Aceh, for what they called JSC's failure to stop the extortion of Acehnese by GAM.

Last month, a mob also attacked the JSC Takengon office in South Aceh, and hundreds rallied at the JSC office in Tapaktuan on Tuesday, demanding that the peace monitors leave the town.

Donor countries have put pressure on both the government and GAM to stick to the peace agreement, saying that military force would not bring peace.