Mon, 07 Apr 2003

Peace fading fast after mob attacks E. Aceh JSC office

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh

Peace in war-torn Aceh has come under further attack as an angry mob of 1,500 ransacked and burned a Joint Security Committee (JSC) office in the East Aceh town of Langsa on Sunday.

It was the second raid on the peace monitors' offices in less than one month after hundreds of people attacked another JSC office in Takengon, Central Aceh, ostensibly over what they called the committee's failure to maintain impartiality.

The JSC's senior envoy, Maj. Gen. Thanungsuk Tuvinun, warned that the attack would undermine peace in Aceh, which had been relatively calm since the Indonesian government and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels signed a truce in peace talks brokered by the Henry Dunant Centre on Dec. 9 last year.

"It is not just criminal, but could also destroy the peace process," Thanungsuk told a press conference in Banda Aceh later on Sunday.

Witnesses said that no police officers were posted around the JSC office in Langsa during the attack. It had been empty since March 15, with its six GAM members having left the area for fear of violence by hundreds of people who had been protesting and demanding the release of civilians whom they said had been abducted by the rebels.

Meanwhile, Steve Daly of the HDC's public information unit condemned the security forces for being reluctant to thoroughly investigate the attacks and threats faced by the peace monitors.

"They (JSC) is here to safeguard the peace process. They left their families and children to keep peace in Aceh. But nobody cares about their security," Daly told The Jakarta Post after the press conference.

The JSC, comprising international monitors, Indonesian officials and GAM representatives, was formed by the HDC to supervise the implementation of the peace agreement.

Witnesses said on Sunday that the attackers, who were demanding the release of people allegedly captured and held by GAM, were transported in some 30 trucks and arrived at the scene at around 9 a.m. They forced their way into the office, destroying computers and other equipment before setting the building on fire.

The crowd then moved on to the police station, where they presented a list of demands, including one urging GAM to stop its moves against the "Aceh people". The mob also demanded the dissolution of the JSC for its failure to carry out its duties. Instead, they demanded that the job be left to the Indonesian government.

It is reportedly that all JSC offices in Aceh's eight regencies have faced threats of attack. In response to the threats, the HDC asked the government to provide security for JSC members, including protection for monitors in the field as well as an evacuation process.

The HDC called on the government to take the necessary steps to prevent other incidents and to apprehend those responsible for the attacks on JSC officials in Central and East Aceh.

"Now, the HDC's major concern is the security of all members in each district so that they will be able to carry out their duties as agreed to and mandated by the RI and GAM," David Gorman of HDC said.

Gorman further said that the majority of Acehnese people supported the peace process, but "unfortunately there are some parties who have chosen to challenge the efforts of the JSC through violence."

"Those elements are apparently seeking to undermine the peace process and to ruin the best chance for a solution," Gorman said.

Separately in South Aceh regency, a member of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) was seriously wounded after a group of gunmen ambushed troops in the North Kluet area close to the GAM headquarters in Teluk Mangga.

Jakarta, complaining violations of the peace agreement by GAM, has called for a meeting with the JSC next week to discuss the future of the peace process in Aceh.