Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ After Peace Talks

Following is a breadth of coverage on ongoing peace talks between Indonesia and GAM. We are still hoping for permanent ceasefire and an opportunity for peace in Aceh. In chronological order. Highlights are mine.


Source: The Government-in-Exile of Acheh (ASNLF)
Date: 31 Jan 2005

P.O. BOX 130, S-145 01 NOSBORG
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Statement by the Government in exile of Acheh

On the historic peace talks in Helsinki

At the conclusion of the first round of the historic Helsinki talks, the Government-in-Exile of Acheh (ASNLF) expresses its commitment to continuing the Crisis Management Institute (CMI) dialogue aimed at achieving a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Acheh.

The ASNLF appreciates the efforts of the CMI and its Chairman, Mr Martti Ahtisaari, in facilitating this dialogue, and looks forward to meeting again with representatives of the Indonesian government under CMI auspices.

In expressing its full support for the January 28 statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, the ASNLF reconfirms the need to find a comprehensive political settlement to the conflict in Acheh in tandem with the international humanitarian relief effort.

To this end, the ASNLF expresses its full and unstinting commitment to achieve peace in Acheh and to negotiate a formal ceasefire that is the basis of such a peace. The ASNLF requests that the international community (including the CMI, the United Nations and the governments of concerned nations) urge the GoI agree to a sustainable ceasefire to ensure the continued delivery of emergency aid to tsunami victims.

The ASNLF expresses its great appreciation of the unprecedented efforts of the international community in helping to relieve the suffering of our people and for its program of reconstruction. It therefore also requests that the international community, including the UN, representatives of foreign militaries, aid organisations and other NGOs, remain in Acheh until the reconstruction process is complete and a comprehensive and sustainable peace is achieved.

The ASNLF re-states its commitment to a negotiated comprehensive political resolution of the Acheh conflict within a mutually agreed time-frame.

Stockholm, Sweden, 30 January 2005

Bakhtiar Abdullah
Information Officer

Source: Joyo Indonesia News
Date: 1 Feb 2005

Indonesia Rules Out Referendum In Aceh Peace Talks

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Feb. 1 (AP)--Indonesia on Tuesday rejected an offer by Acehnese rebels to put their independence claims on hold in return for an eventual referendum on the issue, but mediators were optimistic that coming peace talks could be fruitful.

The two sides held talks over the weekend in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, to consider a formal cease-fire in Aceh province and to reopen a peace process that was brutally broken in 2003 by the Indonesian military.

Although the Helsinki meeting ended inconclusively, both sides said negotiations will resume in February, and mediators said Jakarta's offer of limited self-government for the province would likely be the key issue at the talks.

Acehnese rebels on Monday offered to put their secession demands on hold if the tsunami-hit province is allowed to hold an independence referendum within five to 10 years - a proposal the government rejected Tuesday.

"The Indonesian government has never entertained the idea of a referendum for the province of Aceh," Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said.

But mediators were optimistic about the next round in Finland.

"Obviously, the fact that they're meeting again after nearly two years is a very good sign," said Anthony Zinni, a retired U.S. general who mediated in peace talks between the two sides in 2002.

"They're still feeling each other out, and the key issue remains the autonomy that Indonesia is offering," said Zinni, who also served as U.S. President George W. Bush's envoy to the Middle East. "We'll see how that plays out, but I'm very encouraged by the fact that they're talking again."

An earlier round of negotiations resulted in a five-month cease-fire - the first in the 29-year war - which collapsed in May 2003 when the Indonesian military launched an offensive against the Free Aceh Movement.

In the aftermath of the tsunami that struck Aceh in December, both sides have been under intense international pressure to resume talks and conclude a formal cease-fire.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who convened last weekend's meeting, said he expected the coming talks - tentatively scheduled for Feb. 21 - to be difficult.

Representatives of the Free Aceh Movement want the Indonesian side to clarify the proposal to grant the province of 4.1 million people wide-ranging autonomy. In exchange for self-government, Jakarta expects the rebels to give up their independence struggle.

Dropping that goal would be crucial for integrating the rebels into politics. Most observers believe the Free Aceh Movement would overwhelmingly win any free vote in the region, but Indonesian law bans parties that advocate secession.

Separatists in the past have insisted on an internationally supervised referendum on self-determination - a demand unacceptable to Jakarta, where memories are still fresh of a 1999 plebiscite in East Timor which resulted in a massive vote for independence.

"It's unfortunate that the tsunami disaster had to be the catalyst for renewed contacts, but it is very promising that the new round of talks are being facilitated by Ahtisaari, who has a long experience as a diplomat and international mediator," said Budimir Loncar, a former Yugoslav foreign minister who co-chaired the 2002 talks with Zinni.

Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, who served as Indonesia's principal mediator in those talks, said the government must accept that the "military option" has done more damage than good.

"I know that some people want the problem to be solved by military force," he said. "But you must realize that the killings have only created hatred among the Acehnese, which is poisoning the whole atmosphere."

Tens of thousands of people have died in fighting that broke out in 1976. At least 15,000 have perished in the last decade.
The Aceh war began when Dutch colonialists invaded the previously independent sultanate in 1870.


Source: The Jakarta Post
Date: 1 Feb 2005

Dark future tipped for govt-GAM talks
By Tiarma Siboro and Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Jakarta

Plans to hold further peace talks between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) look likely to stalemate as both parties cannot agree on the final goal of the dialog.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo A.S. said on Monday that at the recent informal meeting in Finland, the government sought a "comprehensive and permanent solution" to the separatist conflict in tsunami-ravaged Aceh.

The GAM delegates meanwhile brought the concept of "a temporarily settlement merely aimed at ending the hostilities through a cease-fire", he said.

"With regard to stopping the conflict, we want a comprehensive and permanent solution... not just talk about a cease-fire", Widodo said after a breakfast meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta.

"If there should be a further dialog, we want a clear agenda and substance to serve as the basis for discussions. Otherwise, we're not sure whether we would like to sit down again for talks," said Widodo, a retired four-star Navy admiral who was among the three ministers representing the government in the two-day talks with GAM leaders in Helsinki.

The top-level delegations from the government and GAM ended their dialog on Saturday with no concrete agreement on how to end war in Aceh, but vowed to meet again soon to seek a peaceful solution.

The two sides refused to disclose when the next meeting would take place, but it will reportedly be held in Helsinki on Feb. 21.

Separately, chief negotiator Minister of Justice and Human Rights Hamid Awaluddin insisted that the special autonomy offer for the resource-rich province was as far as the government would go to end the separatist conflict.

During the Helsinki dialog, Hamid said, the government delegation provided the GAM leaders with a copy of Law No. 18/2002 on Special Autonomy for Aceh and supporting documents.

"In principle, they (the GAM leaders) said they are willing to learn about the concept in detail," he said.

From Sweden, GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah said that during the recent meeting, his side would only bring "practical and realistic issues to the discussion", particularly how to ensure that tsunami survivors could get relief aid quickly.

"How can we stop a three decades-long conflict in only one or two days?," he said.

Bakhtiar lamented Indonesia's efforts to limit the talks to only discussing special autonomy for Aceh, which meant that "the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia is the final concept".

Meanwhile, the facilitator of the talks, the Finland-based Crisis Management Initiative, said it was preparing the guidelines for the next meeting.

Bakhtiar said GAM's willingness to attend the next set of talks depended on the proposed guidelines.

He said the rebel group would insist on demanding an independence referendum for Aceh instead of accepting the special autonomy status.

"But it must be the aspirations of the majority of people in Aceh," he said.

"The idea of a referendum was not taken to the negotiation table (in the last talks)... But we must discuss this in the next step," Backtiar told The Jakarta Post from Sweden.

He said it would be easy to hold a referendum in Aceh with the help of international monitoring groups.

The rebels began fighting for independence in 1976, accusing the central government of plundering the province's resources. More than 12,000 people have died in the conflict.


Source: The Jakarta Post
Date: 1 Feb 2005

First direct elections in Aceh regions postponed
By Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Jakarta

While other regions across the country are gearing up to hold the first direct regional elections in June, five regencies in Aceh will have to postpone the event following the tsunami disaster.

Minister of Home Affairs M. Ma'ruf said on Monday that regional elections in five regencies of Aceh including Calang, Meulaboh and the mayoralty of Banda Aceh will be postponed indefinitely. The three areas were severely affected by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

"Public facilities have been badly damaged, and officials are not ready and residents are still suffering," he told reporters after a breakfast meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Merdeka Palace.

Ma'ruf could not say when residents in the five regencies could exercise their right to elect their respective leaders directly.

"We don't know yet because these regencies are still under emergency rule," he said.

Ma'ruf said that the President would issue a presidential decree on the postponement.

Various regions across the country are set to hold regional elections in June to directly elect more than 200 regional leaders including regents, mayors and governors whose terms will end soon.

The government has ruled that other regencies in Aceh, which survived the earthquake and ensuing tsunami, must conduct the regional election as scheduled, including voting for a new governor.

Aceh's current governor, Abdullah Puteh, was suspended by the President after he was charged with corruption last year.

For Papua, Ma'ruf said that the government would conduct the election in line "with existing legislation", referring to a government regulation on the establishment of the Papua People's Assembly (MRP) and Law No. 21/2001 on special autonomy in Papua.

"We'll push for the establishment of the MRP first (before conducting the election)," he said.

Separately, the General Elections Commission (KPU) announced that it would issue national guidelines for KPU branches (KPUDs) in a bid to standardize the regional election process across the country, Antara reported.

KPU Chairman Nazaruddin said that the technical guidance, such as budgeting and ballot logistic preparations, was mandatory for KPUDs as it would be the first experience for all of them in conducting regional elections.

"Currently, different KPUDs have different guidelines for regional elections. They must be standardized nationally," he told reporters after a meeting with the House of Representatives's Commission III on legal and human rights.


Source: The Jakarta Post
Date: 1 Feb 2005

Editorial ~ Hoping for Peace

Desperate positivism. That could be a way of describing the reactions toward the recently concluded talks in Helsinki between Aceh separatist leaders (GAM) and Indonesian government representatives.

The two-day meeting provided little substance in terms of progress on ending the ongoing hostilities. Calling the talks positive may be clutching at straws.

Many in this country, not least our respected legislators, have viewed the talks with snide skepticism. There are certainly many question marks hanging over the talks, especially the nature in which they came about, as it was initially patterned closer to a "corporate takeover" than a diplomatic negotiation.

In fact, many of Indonesia's senior diplomats who took part in previous talks were left in the dark over developments in the latest talks.

But after two years of war and impasse, and on the heels of one of the worst natural disasters in history, the decision to continue talks at some point in the near future is a positive development.

At the very least, the two sides, by all accounts, did not leave the table in anger. In diplomacy, this could be what is described as "agreeing to disagree". There have been continued reports of clashes on the ground between government soldiers and rebels, however trading words among top representatives is better than exchanging gun fire. The talks show that there is goodwill among the two sides to seek a more amiable solution to the fighting, which generations of Acehnese have had to suffer through.

It is our hope that those involved in the armed clashes will finally recognize that there is a greater enemy currently threatening the lives of Acehnese. That enemy is hunger, illness and suffering brought about by the tsunami.

But even with our contentment over this initial round of talks, it is imperative that government officials hastily prepare a follow-up concept, which can be brought to the table.

One Indonesian minister was quoted as saying that "future meetings would seek a comprehensive peace settlement". This encouraging remark, we hope, can be interpreted as a desire to widen the talks to include the most relevant stakeholders in the Aceh issue. There is little point in imposing a peace that the Acehnese themselves have little dividend in.

Increasing the number of people involved comes with risks. Foremost is the danger that negotiations could descend into a cacophony of ideas and subplots rather than a simple dialog focused on stopping the gun fire. But, if managed properly, the general involvement of a wider spectrum of local leaders will also serve as peer pressure for both GAM and the government to hash out a mutually acceptable agreement.

Who better to shape the future of Aceh than the Acehnese?

Another proposal that could be considered, would be to find a role for the armed rebels in the reconstruction of Aceh. Given the scale of the devastation and massive rebuilding program, surely there is a role for these native Acehnese.

It is our hope that the next series of talks will further examine the common ground along with ways and means by which the two parties can alleviate the pain caused by the tsunami.

If either side resumes talks in the near future without bringing forth an open mind and qualified proposals for which to work on, then these talks will only have been window dressing to appease critics of the violence in Aceh.

To major political players in Indonesia, we ask that the sluggishness of the talks be given the benefit of the doubt. Do not cloud the remote chance for peace with superfluous issues of nationalistic chauvinism.

In particular, rebel forces and soldiers in Aceh should consciously make every effort to refrain from shooting each other.

Peace now needs to be the top priority, and it needs everybody's full support.


Source: The Jakarta Post
Date: 1 Feb 2005

Opinion ~ Don't Rush into New Round of Political Talks
By Kirsten E. Schulze, London

For the first time since the collapse of the Aceh peace process in May 2003 the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government formally talked again.

This decision came in the wake of the tsunami's devastation of much of Aceh's coastal areas, leaving some 170,000 Acehnese dead. This humanitarian disaster added urgency to the informal back-channel contacts, which had been going on since November 2004. The need to provide meaning to Aceh's immense tragedy also pushed both the international community and many Indonesians to urge GAM and Indonesia to leave the conflict behind and embark upon the road of reconciliation.

While an end to three decades of conflict is, of course, highly desirable, one should be cautious of rushing into a renewed round of political talks.

What is often overlooked in the pressure to return to the negotiating table is that the price of a failed peace process is a high one indeed.

Failed peace processes diminish the hopes that a conflict can be resolved non-violently. They polarize society, erode the middle ground, and strengthen the hardliners. A failed peace process delegitimises negotiations and relegimitises military solutions. And the last thing the Acehnese need at this point is to have their expectations raised only to be crushed.

The tsunami has not altered the positions of either the Indonesian government or GAM. Indonesia is still not willing to let Aceh secede and GAM is still not willing to give up its goal of independence. Aceh's humanitarian tragedy has not bridged the gap between them. A return to bilateral political negotiations would thus only reproduce the zero-sum dynamics that resulted in the breakdown of the peace process in May 2003.

That is not to say that the renewed dialog between GAM and Indonesia has no merit, especially if it focuses on a possible ceasefire rather than the question of sovereignty. If the new talks can deliver a genuine, credible and lasting cessation of hostilities that would already be a tremendous achievement and one not without difficulties.

Every single ceasefire GAM and Indonesia agreed in the past was violated soon after its conclusion. A renewed ceasefire will face the same obstacles, starting with controlling troops on the ground in the face of real and perceived provocation in an environment of total distrust.

Indonesia will have to decide whether there will be a scaling back in the number of Indonesian troops or a reformulation of their mandate.

Thorny issues such as what constitutes a ceasefire violation also have to be addressed. Apart from the obvious exchange of gunfire GAM and Indonesia need to decide whether violations, for instance, include the raising of GAM flags, recruitment and training of GAM members, the import of weapons, the raisingof GAM 'taxes', and GAM political activities. These issues all contributed to the collapse of previous ceasefires.

No less daunting is the question of whether there will be a monitoring mechanism. Who determines when a ceasefire has been broken and what, if any, sanctions will be imposed?

If agreement on a ceasefire could be reached, it could bring immense benefits for Aceh. It would provide a secure environment for humanitarian aid workers to help the Acehnese rebuild their cities and villages and, above all, their lives. It would provide the space for Acehnese wounds to heal - and not just those caused by the tsunami. And if the ceasefire holds for long enough it would help build confidence between GAM and Indonesia and could form the basis for future political negotiations. A long-term ceasefire would also provide
the opportunity for addressing some of the underlying causes of the conflict: broken promises, socio-economic dislocation, political marginalisation, and ultimately the descent into poverty of large parts of the population while the elites enriched themselves.

A 'roadmap' is needed that focuses not just on post-tsunami recovery but also on development across the whole province as well as the full implementation of special autonomy. This includes cleaner, more accountable, more effective and more responsive governance. It also means rebuilding the education and healthcare systems, improving the infrastructure, and addressing rural poverty and unemployment. Focusing on the tsunami-struck areas only could
create new social jealousies and feelings of injustice.

A long-term credible ceasefire would create the perfect environment for the reconstruction of Aceh in a broader sense, allowing the Acehnese to recover from both the tsunami and the conflict and to return to some semblance of normality.

A rush into political dialog risks bringing about the opposite. The understandable need to have something positive come out of this horrendous natural disaster should be carefully weighed against the costs of another failed peace process.

The writer is a senior lecturer in International History at the London School of Economics. She is the author of The Free Aceh Movement (GAM): Anatomy of a Separatist Organization (East-West Center, 2004).

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