Tue, 06 Aug 2002

U.S. mediator visits Aceh

Ibnu Mat Noor and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Jakarta

Three international "wise men" assisting in the peace talks between the government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) began a three-day visit to the Aceh provincial capital of Banda Aceh on Monday.

During the visit, the three mediators in the Indonesia-GAM dialog being held under the auspices of the Swiss-based Henry Dunant Center (HDC) -- Gen. (ret) Anthony Zinni, Andrew Marshall and David Gorman -- will hold a series of meetings with provincial leaders.

The local spokesman for the HDC, Fahmi Yunus, said the aim of the visit was to get a look at the real situation in the province and to pave the way for further talks.

Zinni, who is also the United States' special peace envoy to the Middle East, along with Marshall and Gorman, held a series of closed-door meetings with Indonesian officials in the provincial capital on Monday.

However, it is unclear in what capacity the three men are visiting Aceh, with the Indonesian government and the U.S. Embassy providing conflicting statements regarding their trip.

A senior official at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta told The Jakarta Post on Monday that Zinni did not represent Washington and his visit "had no connection at all to the U.S. government".

The official, who asked not to be named, also said that Zinni came to Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam under the auspices of the HDC, and the center should be the one explaining the reasons behind the visit.

An HDC official told the Post on Monday that Zinni was a special adviser to the center and was visiting Aceh to gather information on the restive province.

"He is not there to represent the U.S. government, but as special adviser for our office," the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said by phone from Geneva.

An official in the office of the Indonesian coordinating minister for political and security affairs, however, said Zinni was representing Washington and had met with Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Sunday.

Zinni, Gorman and Marshall held meetings on Monday at the Kuala Tripa Hotel in Banda Aceh with a number of local leaders, including Muhammad Daim, Yusni Sabi, Imam Syuja and Gani Nurdin, as well as members of the Aceh security monitoring teams from the regencies of Pidie, Bireuen, North Aceh and East Aceh.

"They are slated to hold meetings with the province's Iskandar Muda Military Command chief (Maj. Gen. Djali Yusuf), the provincial police chief (Insp. Gen. Yusuf Manggabarani) and the governor (Abdullah Puteh) tomorrow (Tuesday)," Fahmi said.

The three are also scheduled to hold meetings with GAM negotiators and visit Pidie regency on Tuesday.

The visit comes as Jakarta seems to be considering a policy change in the province, turning away from dialog in favor of a military solution to the separatist movement in Aceh.

After a limited Cabinet meeting on Monday, Coordinating Minister Susilo said the government was striving to continue the dialog with GAM and to find a proper forum for further talks.

"However, we underline that the acceptance of special regional autonomy and the cessation of hostility are the basic requirements to continue the dialog," Susilo said.

He added that President Megawati Soekarnoputri had postponed any decisions on Aceh for two weeks because of other urgent issues the government was dealing with.

This postponement is unlikely to be welcome news in Aceh, where many residents are worried that the government may decide to step up military action in the province.

The Aceh chapter of the Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) announced that 845 people were murdered, another 826 were abducted and 1,164 others were tortured between January and July of this year, a period of stepped up security operations in the province.

"Increasing the security operations will increase the number of victims in the province," local LBH chief Rufriadi said.

The HDC official, however, told the Post that the Indonesian government had always shown good intentions for dialog and had supported the center's efforts.