Sun, 14 Sep 2003

Scholar queries plan to put GAM on terrorist list

Tiarma Siboro and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government's intention to submit the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to be included on the United Nations (UN) terrorist list drew criticism on Saturday, with a scholar calling it a move to seek international legitimacy for the military to crush the rebels.

International law expert Bantarto Bandoro said the move would not win worldwide support, as the separatist movement was not considered a threat to international interests, but a group fighting for independence from Jakarta.

"Perhaps the government is right by saying that GAM has created terror among the public, but the international community understand it as a movement to break away from Jakarta. It has never posed threats to international interests elsewhere in the world," he said.

"On paper, it is possible for Indonesia to ask the UN to declare GAM as a terrorist group, but practically and politically, it will not win significant support," Bantarto told The Jakarta Post.

Jakarta imposed martial law on the resource-rich province on May 19 to allow for a major military offensive against the separatists, who have been fighting for independence since 1976. The martial law expires in November, but the Indonesian Military (TNI) has asked for an extension to enable the Acehnese to exercise their right to vote in the general elections and the presidential election next year.

"The government requires legitimacy from the international community, as there has been no significant progress after more than three months of the military operation. No top GAM leaders have been arrested so far," he said.

Bantarto said GAM, as well as other separatist groups such as the MNLF in the Philippines and the IRA in Ireland, was far different from terror groups like al-Qaeda, which had an international network.

"Al-Qaeda developed an international network in a bid to attack foreign interests and cause terror in the world," he said.

Despite the challenge, the Indonesian government was confident it would finally win international support for its attempt to have GAM listed with the UN as a terrorist group.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Saturday that the government possessed enough evidence to convince the world that GAM was involved in a series of terror attacks across the country.

"It will be appropriate for the international community to acknowledge GAM as a terror group, as terrorists are not necessarily linked to the al-Qaeda network," Hassan said.

He said a series of bomb attacks allegedly perpetrated by GAM members could be categorized as indiscriminate, politically motivated and violent, which fit the definition of acts of terror.

The General Assembly Resolution 49/60 issued on Dec. 9, 1994 says acts of terror include crimes that threaten a nation's territorial integrity and security.

"The state members solemnly reaffirm their unequivocal condemnation of all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, wherever and by whomever committed, including those which jeopardize the friendly relations among states and people and threaten the territorial integrity and security of states," the resolution says.

However, Hassan stressed that the government would only proceed with the plan only if the legal process against exiled GAM leaders in Sweden failed.