Sat, 03 Jun 2000

Truce takes effect in Aceh despite murder of rebel leader

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): The three-month long truce between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist rebels officially took effect on Friday, despite the murder of rebel leader Teuku Don Zulfahri in Malaysia on Thursday.

Security in the strife-torn province was generally good for the landmark day although rain poured on the capital city of Banda Aceh. There were a few incidents of locals hoisting the GAM flag in the area, but no clashes were reported.

The Indonesian government and GAM issued a joint statement to mark the start of humanitarian pause, with both pledging to restore security and order within the period.

"We believe that the conflict between the two forces has caused tremendous suffering in Aceh. We are committed to finding ways to successfully stop the violence here," reads the statement, signed by Col. Ridwan Karim on the government's behalf and GAM representative Nasiruddin bin Ahmad.

Also attending the joint press meeting at Hotel Kuala Tripa were State Minister of Human Rights Hasballah M. Saad and Aceh Governor Syamsuddin Mahmud.

"We will respect the agreement signed by our representatives in Geneva on May 12 and we are ready to work together," Ridwan told the media here, adding that the security committee was set to promote the peace pact to the Acehnese people.

The other joint committee formed as part of the implementation of the peace accord will ensure the effective delivery of humanitarian relief.

Members of the humanitarian committee are T. Kamaruzzaman, Iljas Muhammed Abed, Cut Nurasikin, Hasbi Abdullah and Sofjan Ibrahim Tiba from GAM. The government representatives are Naimah Hasan, Yunus Ilyas, Ridwan Husen, T. Kamal and Rusli Wahid.

The security modalities committee will focus on reducing violence, including to guarantee the halt of all military action and ensure the police function in maintaining law and order in the province.

Violence has persisted since the joint humanitarian pause was signed in Davos, Switzerland on May 12. The Human Rights Forum in Aceh (FP-HAM) noted 31 people have been killed and 36 others injured in a spate of violence dating back from that historic day.

"The level of violence seemed to increase prior to the start of the pause," the forum's spokesman Yarmen Dinamika said.

The killing of Zulfahri, 40, on Thursday capped the fragile period. Known as a moderate GAM leader, Zulfahri was shot twice, in the back of his head and his left arm, while having lunch with three friends in a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, AFP reported.

He is survived by a wife and two children. His body was buried in Damansara Muslim Cemetery on Friday.

Malaysian police have yet to identify the gunman or the motive behind the killing. Bernama news agency reported that the murderer, who wore a gray crash helmet, fled after the shooting.

Zulfahri had repeatedly called for talks with the Indonesian government to end years of violence while remaining an advocate of independence.

An AFP source said Zulfahri became an irritant to the main group under Sweden-based Hasan Tiro after forming a group called the 'ruling council of GAM'.

GAM spokesman Ismail Syahputra accused the Indonesian Military of the assassination,


"Teuku Don Zulfahri used to work for Indonesian intelligence and the military. And then about five days ago he appeared on Malaysian television voicing his support for the cease-fire in Aceh," Ismail said in a telephone interview.

TNI spokesman Air Rear Marshall Graito Usodo denied the charge, saying that TNI always considered Zulfahri a person who was willing and capable of implementing the accord. Graito added TNI would not commit any action that could jeopardize peace in the province.

Separately, Hasballah told media that the murder of Zulfahri could be a result of a factional war within GAM.

"But I am not going to speculate as to who killed him. I really hope it doesn't harm the peace process," he said at Hotel Kuala Tripa after the signing of the joint statement.

GAM representative on the security committee, Nasiruddin bin Ahmad, expressed guarded optimism that the truce would work despite the murder.

"The murder does not change anything, and the (peace) process will continue. From what I recall, he (Don Zulfahri) was once against this humanitarian pause," Nasiruddin told media briefing following the pact signing.

Due to the current security condition in Aceh, local police issued on Friday a letter to guarantee the safety of every member of the security committee as long as they do not violate the agreed security ground rules.

Antara reported, the letter was signed by Aceh Police Chief Brig. Gen. Bachrumsyah Kasman, and was issued upon request of GAM members who sit on the security committee. (50/edt/dja)