Sat, 26 Apr 2003

RI, GAM asked to save peace

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia's international aid donors are putting pressure on Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to continue with their plan to hold a Joint Council meeting to salvage the fragile peace in Aceh.

The United States, Japan and the World Bank said a successful Joint Council meeting would be necessary to save the Dec. 9 peace agreement in the natural resource-rich province, while blaming GAM for causing the talks, originally planned to begin on Friday, to falter.

"We regret that GAM has allowed minor procedural issues to prevent the parties from meeting. We call upon GAM to maintain the path for a peaceful solution of the Aceh conflict," Japan Ambassador to Indonesia Yutaka Iimura said on Friday.

He was speaking after a meeting with representatives of the U.S. and the World Bank to respond to Jakarta's decision not to send a delegation to Geneva, Switzerland, where the talks were scheduled to take place. GAM had insisted on holding the meeting on April 27, instead of April 25 as it was presumed by all parties.

Japan, the U.S., the EU and the World Bank were co-chairs of the Tokyo Conference on Peace and Reconstruction in Aceh. They have pledged humanitarian assistance to help with reconstruction in the province, which has been hampered by years of conflict since GAM began its secessionist movement in 1976.

With Indonesian Military (TNI) and GAM fighting almost everyday, more than 10,000 people have been killed, mostly civilians.

The donors said the continued implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) signed last year would depend on a successful result of the Joint Council meeting.

"For the sake of keeping the COHA process alive, we hope the parties will put the interests of the people of Aceh to live in peace and security above any other interests," the donor countries said.

The EU did not attend Friday's meeting.

Separately, Sudi Silalahi, an assistant to the Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, hinted that there was still a chance for peace to prevail in Aceh.

"The door for a peaceful solution in Aceh is still open, but we have to spell out conditions to do so." he said after a ministerial meeting on Aceh. The conditions will be brought to President Megawati Soekarnoputri during a Cabinet meeting on Monday.

Sudi asserted that the military and the police would remain on high alert to anticipate a worsening situation in Aceh pending the government's final say about the peace process.

Present at the meeting presided over by Susilo were, among others, Coordinating Minister for Social Welfare Jusuf Kalla, National Intelligence Agency (BIN) Chief A.M. Hendropriyono, TNI chief of general affairs Lt. Gen. Djamari Chaniago, and several officials from economic ministries.

Despite threats of a breakdown of the truce, the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) promised the government on Friday to look forward to another time and venue for the dialog.

"The peace deal is an historic opportunity for peace and the problems recently encountered in its implementation can be resolved between the parties," HDC said in a statement.

GAM meanwhile denied responsibility for the failed meeting, saying it had actually sent delegations from Kutaraja in Aceh while another was ready to take a flight from Kuala Lumpur at the same time.

"From the very beginning, Indonesia has chosen not to follow any normally acceptable procedure in its demand to convene the JC meeting. Instead of informing HDC about its wish to have the JC meeting convened, it chose to summon our side to attend the meeting in Jakarta, even before informing the mediator officially.

"It delivered the demand through the press with a threat, that if we refused, Jakarta would launch a large scale military operation to 'wipe GAM out'. We naturally had no choice but to ignore such a demand, until the HDC informed us officially of the request," GAM said in the statement.

GAM further urged the Indonesian government to read and understand the contents of the COHA, saying that "nowhere in the Agreement is it written that we had accepted the NAD Law as the starting point to the final solution."

While the government insists that the acceptance of the special autonomy for Aceh law is final, GAM says it will pave the way for independence for Aceh.

Violence has been on the rise over the past two months, leaving 50 people dead.

Both parties have also failed to comply with the nearly five- month-old peace agreement, which requires a repositioning of TNI and police strictly for defensive roles and GAM to lay down arms.