Mon, 16 Jun 2003

Now, elected representatives in Aceh also face screening

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The central government and the martial law administration in Aceh will expand the scope of a proposed screening program to local elected representatives and village heads in the war-torn province.

The screening, aimed at uncovering any links between officials and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels, will now apply to all the members of legislatures in the province following the arrest of two local legislators on charges of financing separatist activities.

Martial law administration spokesman Col. Ditya Soedarsono denied allegations on Saturday that the screening would discredit the state apparatus in the province.

"This screening is aimed at creating a clean and strong administration, not discrediting local officials," Ditya said as quoted by Antara.

Originally the screening, scheduled to last from July 1 to July 30, was targeted at 67,000 civil servants.

The screening, Ditya said, was part of an attempt to strengthen the local administration, which was one of the purposes of the integrated operation in Aceh. The operation is primarily intended to quell the three-decade-long rebellion, provide humanitarian assistance and enforce the law in the province.

Zulkifli Adam, a member of the Sabang legislative council representing the United Development Party, and Marwan of the Aceh Besar legislative council representing the Golkar Party were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of being involved with GAM. They also face dismissal from their respective parties.

The arrests came a few days after 76 village heads resigned en masse, citing intolerable pressure from both the Indonesian Military (TNI) and GAM.

Ditya said that the strengthening of local administrations would comprise improving supervisory functions to help create professional, clean and strong state institutions.

Commenting on the screening plan, National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) member Achmad Ali suggested that the tests should not be exclusively conducted by military officers.

Achmad said civilian officials should also be involved in the process to ensure it complied with the prevailing regulations and human rights principles.

"It must be conducted as part of the integrated operation in Aceh," Achmad told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

He suggested that the public should not react negatively to the planned screening, saying it was designed to detect GAM members who might be working in the bureaucracy and other institutions.

But Munir, the director of the advocacy group, Impartial, and a human rights campaigner, lashed out at the plan, which he said would revive the authoritarian practices of the past.

Munir, who admitted to having been screened in the past, said the results of the screening tests could possibly be used by the martial law administration to label critical Acehnese people as being "pro-rebel".

During the New Order regime, screening was conducted on people seeking jobs in government and military institutions to detect if they had any links, direct or indirect, with the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party.

Ditya said the martial law administration was continuing the process of recruiting district and village heads, and renovating government office buildings in Aceh.

He added that the local administration would soon replace existing ID cards in the province with new ones, which use the national red and white flag as a background.