Sun, 26 Jan 2003

Peace zone marks start of long-term harmony in Aceh

Kornelius Purba The Jakarta Post Banda Aceh, Aceh

Being a war zone for almost three decades, Aceh on Saturday took a small step, but in some ways it could be a giant leap toward peace, by declaring a small district near the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, the first demilitarized zone.

Barring any unforeseen obstacles, Aceh will have seven more peace zones within two weeks.

The first zone of peace is Indrapuri district in Aceh Besar regency. It lies 24 kilometers south of Banda Aceh. The district was chosen due to its close distance to the provincial capital and because conflict there was so intense at times that it now requires immediate humanitarian assistance.

The declaration ceremony took place near a traditional market in Indrapuri and was attended by about 2,000 local people and the representatives of the Aceh Besar local administration. Also present was Maj. Gen. Tanongsuk Tuvinun from Thailand, who heads the Joint Security Committee (JSC), and representatives of the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), which brokered the peace deal.

Indrapuri is the first demilitarized area in the province following the signing of a peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Geneva on Dec. 9.

Pamphlets containing peace messages were displayed near the venue. There was also a small poster containing 15 prohibited acts, including rape and sexual harassment, especially by the Indonesian Military (TNI) and Police who have been deployed to Aceh.

"Both parties have come together to create this weapons-free place and to pave the way for economic development," Tuvinun said in his speech.

The ceremony only lasted about 30 minutes, with Tuvinun the only one addressing the crowd. There was no dialog between the local people and the tripartite JSC, which comprises representatives of Indonesia, GAM and the HDC, many of whom are from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries.

Despite the absence of a dialog, local people looked enthusiastic and were especially happy with the warm attitude of the Thai general, as many of them approached him just to shake hands with him.

"Together, we can all help the Acehnese begin to live a normal life," Tuvinun told the audience.

"I hope peace will last long here. We have suffered too much. Now we feel safer, and we can go to our paddy fields with less fear," said a 35-year-old housewife when asked about the prospects for peace.

Most other local people seemed very suspicious when queried about peace in their region. Some of them spoke only in Acehnese (most of the security personnel deployed by Jakarta cannot understand it) and quickly left if any other Indonesians tried to approach them.

In a media briefing, the preceded the ceremony, Tuvinun announced an ambitious plan to extend the peace zone areas to eight other regencies in Aceh before Feb. 8. He declined to identify the regencies.

However a government official, who asked not to be identified, and GAM official T. Kamaruzzaman revealed that Banda Aceh, Aceh Besar, South Aceh, Bireun, North Aceh, East Aceh, Central Aceh and Pidie would be demilitarized within two weeks. The eight peace centers will cover all 19 regencies and mayoralties before the whole of Aceh is eventually declared as a peace area.

"For the time being, nine places will be a good start. However, we hope that Aceh will soon be declared a complete zone of peace," said Kamaruzzaman, a JSC member representing GAM.

According to the Geneva agreement, GAM members and Indonesian soldiers are prohibited from carrying weapons outside their respective bases within peace zones. Military outposts must also be vacated.

Despite the Geneva agreement and stronger international presence to monitor the truce, the long-standing question about trials for perpetrators of human rights abuses during the war era remains unanswered. Human rights activists here have complained that the Dec. 9 agreement hardly dealt with human rights issues or the punishment of the perpetrators.

During a public discussion, organized by the Foundation for Care of Human Rights (YPHAM) here, most speakers, including noted human rights activist Sidney Jones and the foundation executive director Saifuddin Bantasyam, raised their doubts about the government's ability to punish human rights violators during the conflict in Aceh.

According to them, an everlasting peace in Aceh would remain a concept on paper, unless people saw that justice was being upheld and the those who committed crimes against humanity, were properly punished.

Budi, a police officer participating in the discussion, could not hide his anger when a student quoted an officer in Aceh as telling students that for police here the problem was only "to kill or to be killed."

Acehnese participants during the discussion could only bitterly smirk when Yuwaldi, a government-appointed member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), asked Acehnese people to just pray, because only God could end human rights violations and punish the perpetrators.

"We can only depend on God," Yuwaldi said, arguing that human rights issues were just too complicated for human beings.