Sat, 13 Mar 1999

Team says Habibie must give concrete solution on Aceh

JAKARTA (JP): President B.J. Habibie is expected to provide clear outcomes for Aceh when he visits the province on March 26, an advisor said on Friday.

Usman Hasan, chairman of the 12-strong advisory team for Aceh affairs, said he hoped the President would announce expeditious measures for the troubled province.

Hasan proposed wide ranging autonomy, restoration of human rights conditions and rehabilitation and compensation for victims of the 1989-1998 military operation in the oil-rich province.

"He must bring something during his visit," Usman said, after meeting Habibie at Merdeka Palace. Also attending were the 11 team members including chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas Ali Yafie, business tycoon Ibrahim Risyad and former Jakarta governor Surjadi Soedirja.

Habibie was accompanied by Minister of Defense and Security/Armed Forces Commander Gen. Wiranto and Minister of Home Affairs Syarwan Hamid.

The team was set up on March 5 in a bid to accommodate growing calls for separatism and restlessness in the province.

In the one-day visit, Habibie will say his Friday prayer at the historic Baiturrahman Mosque with Aceh leaders and locals.

"We suggested the President display the government's intentions during his first visit to Aceh," said Usman, a former Golkar executive and ambassador to Mexico.

The team told Habibie Aceh was the country's fourth poorest province after Irian Jaya, Maluku and East Timor, despite contributing massive revenue from its abundant oil and gas resources to the central government.

"The Aceh problem is very complicated, politically and economically, because 40.3 percent of its villages are categorized as poorly developed areas," said Usman.

Aceh comprises 10 regencies, two mayoralties, 5,165 villages and a population of about four million people. According to 1996 statistics, its gross domestic product for 1996 was Rp 3.76 million (US$440), much of it contributed by the oil and gas sector.

Between 1989 and 1998, military operations to crack down on alleged separatist movements, claimed at least 1,021 lives, while 864 people are missing and 1,376 women became widows.

Usman said it would be wise if Habibie announced a plan to provide proper burials to victims of the violence, provide widows with financial compensation and orphans with scholarships.

The team advised Habibie to clarify Aceh's status as a special province, an entitlement which allows autonomy in the affairs of religion, custom and culture and education.

"It is our expectation, but you must check with him", Usman said, referring to Habibie's readiness to enact changes in the province.

Usman, a native Acehnese, said demands for independence were an expression of frustration and anger over central government negligence, despite the province's extensive financial contribution from the oil and gas sectors. (prb)