Fri, 11 Apr 2003

TNI must not repeat E. Timor mistakes

Ardimas Sasdi, Staff Writer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta,

The process of ending hostilities in troubled Aceh, which has been underway for the last five months, has entered a new, critical phase, which if not handled properly, could wreck the peace plan.

Two of the most worrying developments threatening to derail the peace efforts were an attack by an angry mob of 1,500, who ransacked and burned a Joint Security Committee (JSC) office in the East Aceh town of Langsa on Sunday, and the killing of nine rebels by the police and military in four incidents on Tuesday.

The JSC withdrew its peace monitors from the regencies to Banda Aceh on Tuesday following Tuesday's killings.

Sunday's incident was the second attack by a mob on a JSC office in less than one month. Last month, hundreds of people, whose identities are still unknown, attacked a JSC office in Takengon, Central Aceh, ostensibly over what the attackers' called the committee's failure to maintain impartiality.

The attack, which could be categorized as a criminal act, has the potential to ruin the peace process, which had been proceeding relatively well since the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a truce brokered by the Swiss-based non- governmental organization, the Henry Dunant Centre, in Geneva on Dec. 9.

The JSC was formed by the HDC to supervise the implementation of programs to end the hostilities in Aceh. It comprises representatives from the Indonesian Military (TNI), GAM and international peace monitors, mostly from Thailand, a country viewed by both GAM and Indonesia as neutral.

In response to Sunday's attack, the HDC has asked the government to take the necessary steps to prevent similar incidents, and provide security for JSC members as all the JSC offices in Aceh's eight regencies have faced the threat of attack.

The attacks on the JSC have occurred after a drive by GAM to recruit new members as part of its campaign for independence, and the failure to meet the deadline to disarm as stipulated in the Geneva accord -- things considered by the military to be blatant breaches of the peace deal.

This view has toughened the stance of the TNI and police against GAM. The TNI is still the dominant force, at least as far as Aceh and GAM are concerned. The Army, for instance, held a meeting of its top brass in Lhokseumawe, one of the hottest spots in Aceh, a move seen by observers as a nothing less than a show of force.

The latest developments in Aceh, including the violations of the peace accord by both sides and exchanges of harsh words, have sparked concerns in many quarters.

Senior diplomat Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, the Indonesian government's chief negotiator with GAM, had earlier called on the secessionist movement to comply with the peace deal to avoid plunging the province back into a bloody conflict with the TNI, while a Golkar legislator from Aceh, T.M. Nurlif, urged the government and GAM not to abandon the peace agreement.

The Dec. 9, 2002, peace agreement was seriously flawed from the beginning by GAM's refusal to renounce its 26-year-old armed struggle for independence.

The road to peace between a government and rebels in any part of the world is not easy as evidenced by the ongoing talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebels, which are brokered by the government of Norway and hosted by Thailand. Both Colombo and the rebels treaded lightly at the outset of the peace talks by discussing relatively uncontentious issues so as to ensure they would be able to move on to trickier issues during the later stages.

Most Acehnese, as reflected by the turnouts for the establishment of the new peace zones and their expressed wishes for the extension of such zones, support the existing peace process. The HDC, while not ignoring the violations, was also quite happy with the way the efforts to end the hostilities were proceeding.

In addition, the international community had also invested high hopes in the peaceful solution of the Aceh issue as reflected in the commitment of world organizations and a number of countries to take part in the reconstruction of basic infrastructure in the resource-rich province, such as the building of new schools, roads and irrigation schemes.

The future of the peace deal in Aceh will largely depend upon the political will of GAM and Indonesian government leaders.

The rebels, for instance, must forget their desire for independence, and instead accept Jakarta's offer of special autonomy, while Jakarta also has its work cut out for it so as to ensure justice for the Acehnese.

The military must shift from a heavy-handed approach to a more humane one in order to supplement concrete development programs in a bid to win the hearts and minds of the Acehnese. The military and police will also have to train their personnel in sociology, religion and communications, and tighten up the selection procedures for the officers who are to be sent to the staunchly Muslim province.

The military could also learn from the approach adopted by the former Dutch colonial government in Aceh to end the bloody conflict, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives. The Dutch at one time employed Islamic scholar C. Snouck Hurgronye to research an effective approach toward the Acehnese, who are known as simple but brave people who are immensely proud of their culture and religion. For them, respect is worth much more than wealth.

The military must also resist the temptation to take advantage of the fact that the world's attention is currently focused on Iraq by launching a campaign of uncontrolled violence to crush GAM as it did against the East Timorese following their decision to secede from Indonesia in a referendum in 1999. Should something like this happen again, it is unlikely it will be forgotten, if not actually forgiven, so quickly by the world community.

Evidence is mounting that the military intends to use force to try once again to exterminate the rebels. This may be gleaned from the statement made by Megawati ordering the police and military to prepare themselves for an anti-insurgency operation, and the preparations being made for the dispatch of a large number of additional troops to the province.

If the senior military leaders in Jakarta choose this path, they will be condemning themselves, as well as the younger officers who have no choice but to obey the orders of their superiors, and run the risk of some time in the future being hauled before an international court for crimes against humanity.