Fri, 09 Aug 2002

Zinni urges govt to revive talks with GAM

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Adding to the what the local people and observers have suggested, a visiting retired U.S. general and conflict mediator asked the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) on Thursday to pursue a peaceful solution in response to the demand for a separate state in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam province.

Gen. (ret) Anthony Zinni, said that in his capacity as a private U.S. citizen he was making his services available to the Henry Dunant Center (HDC), the Indonesian government and GAM in providing recommendations as they may see fit to implement.

Addressing a joint media conference with Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the latter's office, Zinni said both parties had to go back to the May 2002 agreement which put the Autonomy Law as the basis and starting point for the settlement of all problems in the province.

"The visit to Aceh has allowed me to see on the ground what the situation (there) is. My discussion and talks with all parties were very encouraging and I am very optimistic.

"I think all sides are convinced that the way to peace is through dialog. And I'm convinced we have the momentum now and it will be important for all sides to cooperate to build that momentum into a peaceful resolution," Zinni told the media.

Zinni, who is an advisor to the Geneva-based non-government organization which has facilitated talks between the government and GAM, met with Susilo after a three-day visit to Aceh.

His visit was made ahead of the announcement of Jakarta's new policy for the province following several violent attacks on civilians, as well the murder of several local legislators, all of which were blamed on the separatists.

Initially, the government had planned to announce the new policy on Aug. 5, but had to postpone it until Aug. 19, pending the completion of the Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Last week, President Megawati Soekarnoputri in her progress report before the Assembly, vowed to impose tougher measures against the separatist group which has been fighting for an independent state since 1976, while also offering further dialog.

Earlier, Chief of the Iskandar Muda Military Command overseeing the province Maj. Gen. Djali Yusuf had asked for four more battalions of troops saying that the Indonesian Military (TNI) was still unable to control the West Aceh regency, which is believed to be one of GAM's strongholds.

The worsening security situation in the province has likely frustrated the government as it has also considered imposing a civil emergency there.

Zinni, however, said that although sometimes it may seem very difficult to end the crisis through peaceful dialog, that both sides -- the government and the GAM -- shouldn't be discouraged.

"Dialog is the way. And if we stumble, we have set backs, don't stop dialog. Let's try to find the peaceful way to resolve it," Zinni said.

When asked about his recommendation about the security situation in the province, Zinni said: "The people in Aceh need a strong sense of security, as well as a mechanism to express it. I think both sides have to work together to build that situation with the help of the Henry Dunant (Center)."

He further said that a date for the next round of peace talks had yet to be decided, but hoped it would be "relatively soon".

Meanwhile, Susilo said that the government would prefer the next talks be held in Aceh and involve all parties in the province, as well as to prevent the "internationalization of our home problems."

Susilo, however, asserted that the government would only reevaluate its plan to reinforce troops in Aceh if GAM was willing to support a peaceful solution and stop attacking civilians there.