Fri, 17 Mar 2000

President says Aceh security improving, GAM losing ground

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid belied concerns over worsening security in Aceh, saying that the situation there was good and boasted that separatist rebels were loosing ground in their battle against the Indonesian Military (TNI).

"Well, its getting better because the general situation is now very good," he replied here on Wednesday when asked about the strife-torn province.

"Go ask the people of Aceh themselves. They all know that GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) is loosing position, that's why in several areas, GAM attack schools and other public places hoping the people will suspect TNI," he claimed.

He argued that the very fact that separatist rebels were launching such attacks was evidence that they were in a difficult position.

"If you make such attacks now, that means you are losing ground," he said explaining his logic.

Abdurrahman urged TNI soldiers and police not to retaliate against these attacks, but to remain in their barracks "unless going to pray at the mosque."

Abdurrahman conceded that rights abuses were occurring, including those committed by rebels.

"But they're getting fewer," he claimed.

The President's comments were completely contradictory to statements made by leading rights activist Munir and the Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Paul Grossrieder, who on Tuesday deplored the situation in Aceh.

Munir, coordinator of Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and also a member of the Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPP HAM), said the atrocities in Aceh were even worse than those in East Timor.

"The killings in Aceh are far more horrible than those that occurred in East Timor," said Munir in Banda Aceh.

He added that the situation in Aceh was far more complicated and that civilians were trapped between security forces and alleged separatist rebels.

Recent reports reveal that civilians have fallen prey to random shootings. In many cases they were mistakenly killed by security personnel, separatist rebels or other armed groups.

At least 250 people, including 16 soldiers and 13 policemen, have been killed since January this year.

Some 12 civilians have also been reported missing this month.

"We urge the government as well as the Free Aceh Movement to end the violence and take a penitent path through talks," Munir said after installing Aguswandi, the new Kontras chairman in Aceh, replacing Iqbal Faraby who is now head of provincial chapter of National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

Meanwhile in Jakarta, ICRC director general Grossrieder also asserted that the situation remained "very critical".

He said ICRC representatives in Aceh receive up to 30 requests each week asking assistance to trace missing family members.

Nevertheless, Grossrieder refused to lay blame on either Indonesian security forces or rebels.

Many observers have pointed out that a solution to the Aceh problem depends in part on how the country deals with past rights abuses particularly those allegedly committed by security forces.

The government has initiated a joint military-civilian tribunal to try rights cases. However the first trial has been repeatedly delayed by the bizarre disappearance of a key military suspect and other glitches, raising questions about the government's political will in the matter.

Munir has urged Acehnese to reject the joint tribunal.

"The results of the tribunal will not satisfy Aceh people because there are strong indications that only lower-ranking officers are to be punished while high ranking commanders involved will probably get away," Munir said.

The best option is to wait for a human rights trial, he said, alluding to a draft law pertaining to human rights trials that is being submitted to the House of Representatives.

But Munir conceded that such a rights trial would be well in the future due to the lengthy process of ratifying a law.

In the meantime Munir suggested some sort of reconciliation process between all sides. (50/edt/prb)