Tue, 24 Jun 2003

Religious leader tells govt to end Aceh war

Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta/Jakarta

Chairman Ahmad Syafii Maarif of Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim organization, reiterated on Monday his call for the government to end the war in Aceh and reopen dialog with the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

"It would be better for the government not to make the decision (regarding Aceh) by itself. It has to ask all those involved to sit down together and talk. And (it should) avoid talking about NKRI for the moment, because the word only means oppression for most Acehnese," Syafii suggested, referring to the name, the Unitary Republic of Indonesia, that is mostly used by the military.

Speaking to journalists in Yogyakarta, Syafii expressed his concern over the fact that only a handful of GAM members had been killed or had surrendered since the imposition of the martial law in Aceh last month.

"If the operation can kill some 150 members of GAM a month, it will only be able to kill less than 1,000 of them (in six months of the operation). In fact, GAM reportedly has some 5,000 members. So, what about the rest?" Syafii asked, reiterating his calls for the government to stop the security operation in Aceh and for GAM leaders not to act just as they pleased.

He suggested that the government seek a peaceful solution to end the bloody conflict in Aceh in order to win the hearts and minds of Acehnese people. He pointed out the improved security condition that followed the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement by the two sides on Dec. 9 last year.

The truce collapsed on May 19 when the government decided to launch a military offensive against the separatists, after the two parties failed to reach an agreement over the implementation of the truce.

"It was unfortunate that the government didn't make use of the good condition," Syafii said.

He also expressed his concern over the way police treated Imam Suja', chairman of the Muhammadiyah Aceh chapter, who was briefly detained for questioning several days ago.

"I'm suggesting police not to take a big risk by taking such unnecessary measures. If good people, like Suja', are arrested one by one, they will surely remove themselves even further away from efforts to end the Aceh conflict," he remarked, adding that he expected to meet National Police Chief Gen. Dai Bachtiar over the case.

Suja' is known as a peace mediator in the province.

Separately in Jakarta, the National Police headquarters announced that 124 civilians had been killed since the imposition of martial law in Aceh.

Sr. Comr. Zainuri Lubis added that some 67 civilians had also been injured and 61 others had gone missing.

The data issued by police over civilian casualties in Aceh is higher than that of the military version, which reports less than 100 civilians killed.

The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) has announced that they had retrieved more than 180 bodies since the imposition of martial law, although they did not say whether the victims were civilians or not.

Police also recorded that 109 GAM members had been killed, four injured and 10 others were missing. It claimed that the joint troops had managed to arrest 93 GAM members, apart from 144 others who had surrendered.

Since the military offensive began, as many as 514 school buildings, 223 houses and 10 offices have been burned down, the police said. It did not disclose who was responsible for the arson.