Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ After Second Round Peace Talks

Second round of peace talks between government of Indonesia and GAM was conducted on Feb. 21. Following are a selection of articles that cover about this second round of peace talks, a survey conducted in Aceh (although I doubt the results), an interview with foreign NGO's representative for Aceh's relief, and press releases by GAM's leaders in exile and CMI. In chronological order and the highlights are mine.


The Jakarta Post
Saturday, February 19, 2005

RI, GAM ready to resume talks, focus on autonomy
By Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Jakarta

The government is ready to resume peace talks with Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebel leaders after they agreed negotiations should focus on the government's offer for special autonomy, a senior minister says.

However, a GAM leader said while the separatists were prepared to start the dialog by discussing the autonomy offer, they had already rejected it.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo Adi Sucipto said a high-level delegation would fly to Finland's capital of Helsinki on Saturday and start talks on Monday.

The government said it expects progress from the second round of peace talks, which will be facilitated by the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a global mediator headed by former president of Finland Martti Ahtisaari.

"We have received confirmation (from the CMI) that the talks will revolve around the special autonomy. We do hope for concrete progress," Widodo said on Friday after a limited Cabinet meeting at the Presidential Office.

Widodo reiterated that Jakarta was seeking "a permanent and comprehensive" settlement rather than a temporary solution to the Indonesian Military-GAM conflict in Aceh, which first began in 1976.

The Indonesian delegation will include Minister of Justice and Human Rights Hamid Awaluddin as the chief negotiator; along with Minister of Communications and Information Sofyan Djalil and other state officials, while Widodo would oversee the delegation.

The same group earlier held talks with the GAM leaders in Helsinki in January but came out with no long-term results. At that time GAM was only interested in establishing a temporary cease fire in Aceh to ensure effective humanitarian relief operations in the tsunami-hit province.

Asked whether GAM had indicated its willingness to accept the special autonomy scheme, Widodo said: "We'll talk the details there. But the confirmation (from the mediator) makes us expect more concrete results (from the second-round meeting)."

Meanwhile, Sofyan, who is an Aceh native, said that positive results from the coming peace talks would be crucial for the long-term reconstruction and development of Aceh, which bore the brunt of the Asian tsunami where more than 200,000 people were killed or remained missing.

"We need to talk to all the Acehnese when we rebuild Aceh, including to our GAM brothers. Any settlement of the conflict would be beneficial for the development of a new and better Aceh," he said.

Both the government and GAM had earlier agreed to a temporary cease fire plan via the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed in 2002.

That truce broke down in 2003 and the government later imposed martial law in the province and undertook a large-scale military offensive against GAM rebels.

Rights groups have accused the military of killing many civilians and of committing other human rights abuses during the offensive.

Meanwhile, a GAM delegation member Noerdin Abdulhamid said that the group was ready to talk with the Indonesian delegation, but insisted that they would not accept the special autonomy offer.

"We have received the invitation (sent by the CMI) and know that the meeting will begin by discussing the special autonomy for Aceh, but we have no intention of accepting the concept," Noerdin told The Jakarta Post by phone from Sweden.

Noerdin said that the GAM delegation, to be led by GAM's prime minister for Aceh Malik Mahmood, had other points on their agenda, including an offer of a cease-fire.

Other GAM members set to attend the meeting are Aceh's shadow foreign minister Zaini Abdullah, along with GAM senior official Mohammed Nur Djuli and spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah.


Statement by the Government in Exile of Acheh On the Second Round of the Helsinki Peace Talks

The State Of Acheh
Ministry of Information
P.O. Box 130, S-145 01 Nosborg, Sweden

Ahead of the Second Round of the Helsinki Peace Talks, the Government-in-Exile of Acheh (ASNLF) has announced its two principal goals for the talks.

The Prime Minister-in-Exile of Acheh, Mr Malik Mahmood, said that the first principal goal is the facilitation of and support for the international humanitarian aid effort in Acheh to assist victims of the recent tsunami.

“Our first concern is, and always has been, for the Achehnese people,” Mr Malik said.

In order to facilitate the international humanitarian relief effort, Mr Malik said the ASNLF’s second principal goal for the Helsinki talks is to reach an agreement with the Government of Indonesia on a sustainable ceasefire that is the basis of a lasting peace.

Mr Malik said: “The ASNLF enters the second round of these historic talks in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill.”

He said that in order to achieve a lasting peace, the ASNLF would consider a range of possible political resolutions to the Acheh conflict.

But, Mr Malik said, the talks will begin with no agreement on, or acceptance of, any particular position.

“If we can have peace, we then expect to be able to work towards a negotiated political settlement,” the Prime Minister said.

Stockholm, Sweden, 19 February 2005
Bakhtiar Abdullah
Information Officer


Sydney Morning Herald
Monday, February 21, 2005

Indonesia critic joins Aceh talks team
By Matthew Moore

An Australian academic will be part of the delegation representing Acehnese separatists when a second round of peace talks with Indonesia begins today.

Damien Kingsbury, senior lecturer in international development at Deakin University, Melbourne, will join the eight-member delegation from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) for three days of talks in Helsinki.

Dr Kingsbury attended the first round of talks this month as an observer, but says he is now formally part of the "backroom" team advising GAM leaders negotiating with a team of Indonesian ministers in an attempt to resolve the 30-year conflict.

Fatal clashes between the Indonesian military and GAM have continued since the tsunami devastated much of the province and there is mounting pressure on both sides to resolve the conflict to allow the reconstruction to continue safely.

So far, the talks have been deadlocked over Indonesia's insistence GAM drop its demands for independence and negotiate a form of special autonomy.

Dr Kingsbury said that GAM would set aside its independence demands if the Indonesian Government removed or disarmed all 40,000 troops and paramilitary police and allowed a multi-national force to monitor a ceasefire. He said GAM would need a commitment that the Acehnese would get to vote on their future.

A long-time critic of the Indonesian military, Dr Kingsbury said he expected the Indonesian Government "might be sensitive about my involvement" but hoped it would accept he was trying to help end the war and not support GAM's aims.

"I am not there to advocate independence for Aceh, I'm there to try and achieve a negotiated political outcome." Reuters reports that Jakarta has described as "redundant" a United Nations inquiry into a 1999 rampage in which Indonesian gangs killed about 1000 East Timorese around the time of the country's independence vote, saying it would work within its own already established commission.

The decision of the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, o go ahead with a separate review was announced on Friday, with a UN spokesman saying Mr Annan hoped the review could complement the existing commission.


Associated Press
February 21, 2005

Aceh Separatists To Demand Indonesia Forces' Withdrawal

Jakarta (AP)--Separatists from tsunami-hit Aceh province will demand a full withdrawal of the 50,000 Indonesian security forces from the region as part of a negotiated settlement to end the long-running war, a member of the rebel delegation said Monday.

The rebels also would insist that any agreement be put to a province-wide vote, said Damien Kingsbury, an Indonesia specialist from Australia's Deakin University, who is part of the Acehnese delegation at peace talks in Helsinki, Finland.

Kingsbury's comments were the first details of the rebels' bargaining position as they went into talks with the Indonesian government, which are expected to continue until Wednesday and focus on the Jakarta's proposal to give the region self-government within Indonesia.

Last month, the Indonesian government and Aceh rebels met face-to-face for the first time since a previous peace process collapsed in 2003, when the Indonesian military launched a major offensive against insurgents in the gas-rich region.

Since the earthquake and tsunami devastated Aceh on Dec, 26, both sides have been under intense international pressure to restart the peace process.

After the tsunami struck, the rebels proclaimed a unilateral truce saying they wanted to help rescue efforts. But the Indonesian military said it would continue combat operations until a formal cease-fire was signed, and the army commander has claimed that his troops killed nearly 200 rebels in the first two months after the disaster.

"The (troops) are part of the problem, not the solution," Kingsbury said in a telephone interview from Helsinki.

Kingsbury also said the rebel delegation would ask for clarification about Jakarta's special autonomy plan.

In the past, the separatists have rejected anything short of independence, but Kingsbury indicated this position may have softened.

"GAM is now prepared to discuss reaching a negotiated settlement," he said, referring to the rebels by their Indonesian acronym.

Kingsbury said an accord would have to include the full withdrawal of Indonesia's notoriously brutal army and police forces, which human rights organizations accuse of numerous atrocities in the province of 4.1 million people on Sumatra island.

"The role of the (army) and police will have to be modified, and functionally they will have to be replaced," Kingsbury said. "That would have to be part of any negotiated settlement."

The rebels will also insist that any agreement be put to a province-wide vote.

"There will have to be a vote on the popular acceptance of any deal we reach here," he said. "Democratic principles demand that the people of Aceh ratify any agreement."

He said this wouldn't constitute an independence referendum, which Jakarta adamantly opposes.

The Free Aceh Movement also will demand that it or a separatist party representing it be allowed to take part in future elections for a local legislature, Kingsbury said. This would require changing Indonesia laws, which currently bars separatist parties.


BBC, Monday, 21 February, 2005

Second step in Aceh rebel talks
By Lars Bevanger - BBC News

Negotiating teams from the Indonesian government and the rebel Free Aceh Movement have arrived in Finland for a second round of peace talks.

The Indonesian government is expected to repeat an offer of special autonomy for Aceh in the talks on Monday.

The Aceh rebels have been fighting for independence for the past 30 years.

The first round of talks in Helsinki three weeks ago were considered a big step forward as the parties had not met at all for almost two years.

Special autonomy
At this second meeting in Helsinki, they are expected to get down to tackling the details of a future agreement on how to end three decades of bloody conflict in the Aceh region.

The Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, earlier said the Indonesian government wanted to use the meeting to discuss how its offer of special autonomy for the region could work in practice.

The leadership of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) said they wanted to see what exactly the Indonesian government had to offer before saying anything about whether they now would be ready to accept autonomy for the region.

GAM has earlier said it will accept nothing short of full independence.

Political analysts in Aceh have said the most important thing for now is that the parties agree on a permanent ceasefire to ensure safety for all involved in the aid operation after the tsunami which devastated the region in December.

A de facto ceasefire has been in place since the disaster but there have been recent reports of continuing clashes between GAM rebels and Indonesian forces.


Reuters, February 21, 2005

Aceh talks begin with ceasefire, autonomy on agenda

Helsinki (Reuters): Indonesia and Aceh rebels meet on Monday for a second round of peace talks with a ceasefire and limited autonomy on the agenda for the restive region as both sides seek to end three decades of conflict.

Brought together by the Dec. 26 tsunami which devastated Aceh province, where more than 235,000 people died or went missing, the two sides met in Helsinki in late January under the auspices of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.

It was the first face-to-face meeting between Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) since 2003 and proved constructive enough to spark further talks aimed at a lasting peace for the gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Saturday his government would discuss "special autonomy and topics around that" for Aceh, where over 12,000 have been killed in three decades of fighting.

The autonomy deal Jakarta has offered includes concessions towards self-rule and Islamic law in the devout Muslim province and a bigger slice of the economic benefits from the province's energy resources.

GAM has rejected similar offers in the past, insisting on full independence from Jakarta.

But its leaders, who have lived in exile in Stockholm since they declared independence in 1976 and been granted Swedish citizenships, took part in the January talks, which had limited autonomy as their basis.

Ahtisaari stressed special autonomy was the only political alternative on the agenda.

"I think it's extremely important that everyone understands that we are not starting negotiations, and they are not open such that all possible alternatives could be considered. We only have one (alternative)," he told Reuters in an interview.

"The whole exercise is aimed at looking at whether the possibility of... special autonomy can actually provide the basis for ending the armed conflict."

Negotiations are set to start on Monday around 6:30 a.m. GMT (1:30 p.m. Jakarta time) in a manor house outside of the Finnish capital, with a news conference scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. GMT (8 p.m. Jakarta time).


The Jakarta Post
February 21, 2005

National News
RI, GAM to resume talks despite differences
By Tiarma Siboro, Jakarta

The Indonesian government and the exiled leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) are ready to resume a second-round peace talks in Finland on Monday despite their acute differences on how to end the decades' long conflict in the province that has killed thousands of people.

Delegations from both sides arrived in Helsinki on Sunday, Maria-Elena Cowell, the spokeswoman for mediator Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), said.

CMI was founded by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

The talks, which like the first round of negotiations at the end of January will take place at the Koeningstedt estate outside Helsinki, are scheduled to start in earnest on Monday.

The first round of meetings proved largely unfruitful, and Athisaari felt that a second round would be "decisive" in determining whether the two sides could manage to reach common ground for further negotiations.

"We don't know what the end result is going to be. In that sense, the next meeting will be decisive because after that we'll know if these negotiations will lead to something or not," he was quoted by AFP as saying.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo Adi Sucipto, who is also the supervisor of the Indonesian delegation, said last week that the upcoming talks would revolve around the government's offer of a special autonomy status for the oil and gas rich Aceh.

The CMI also seems keen for GAM leaders to focus the talks on the concept of limited self-rule for Aceh. It said that within the framework of special autonomy, "the (two) parties could cover issues such as socio-economic development and reconstruction, security arrangements, an amnesty, the lifting of the civil emergency (status), justice and also human rights issues."

But GAM leaders say they want to focus on the facilitation and support for the international humanitarian aid effort in Aceh to assist victims of the recent tsunami, GAM's exiled prime minister for Aceh Malik Mahmood said.

To achieve that goal, Malik said that the government-in-exile of Aceh (ASNLF) aimed to reach an agreement with Jakarta on a sustainable ceasefire as the basis of a lasting peace.

"Our first concern is, and always has been, for the Acehnese people," Malik said in a statement.

In order to achieve a lasting peace, ASNLF would consider a range of possible political resolutions to the Aceh conflict, he said. He, however, stressed the talks would begin with no agreement on or acceptance of any particular political position.

"If we can have peace, we then expect to be able to work towards a negotiated political settlement," Malik said.

Despite the sharp differences, the fact that the two parties are talking is widely viewed as a step in the right direction.

When they met last month, it was the first time the sides stood face-to-face since May 2003, when the government declared martial law and launched a major military offensive in the province after a cease fire broke down.


Associated Press
February 22, 2005

Indonesia, Aceh Rebels Resume "Crucial" Autonomy Talks

Helsinki (AP)--The Indonesian government and Aceh rebels resumed a crucial round of negotiations Tuesday on wide-ranging autonomy for the tsunami-struck region where separatists have been fighting for independence for nearly 30 years.

The two sides, who met face-to-face last month for the first time since a previous peace process collapsed in 2003, were to discuss security issues and the Indonesian government's proposal for autonomy for the oil and gas-rich province of 4.1 million people.

The Free Aceh Movement, also known as GAM, had previously demanded full independence.

"We are trying still to find some common ground to proceed on because it's not ended yet," GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah said of the talks which began Monday. "And there were, of course, some sticking points," he added, but didn't elaborate.

The rebel delegation has said it would seek the complete withdrawal of the 50,000 Indonesian security forces from the Aceh region and that any negotiated settlement would have to be put to a province-wide vote.

Members of the Indonesian delegation declined to comment on the talks Tuesday.

Since fighting started in 1976, tens of thousands have died in army offensives aimed at rooting out the guerrillas, who enjoy wide support among the rural population.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, presiding over the negotiations at a secluded manor house outside the Finnish capital, said he didn't expect quick results.

The two sides first met in Finland Jan. 27-29 to discuss international aid and reconstruction in the wake of the Dec. 26 tsunami, and agreed to another round of talks.

They were to discuss a package of proposals on Tuesday, including a cease-fire, security arrangements in the rebel region and international monitoring of any solution agreed by the parties, Ahtisaari's office said.

"The whole process of the second round is crucial and decisive," said Maria-Elena Cowell, a spokeswoman from Ahtisaari's office, but declined further comment.

The meetings were to continue until Wednesday, when Ahtisaari planned to hold a news conference.

The head of the Indonesian delegation, Security Minister Widodo Adi Sucipto, said he hoped both sides could reach an accord to secure "a comprehensive and fair" solution for the region.

"We are here in Helsinki to show our strong commitment of the government of Indonesia to find the best solution for (the) Aceh problems," Widodo said before the meetings began.

In the past, GAM has insisted on a U.N.-supervised plebiscite on self-determination. But Jakarta fears a repetition of the 1999 independence referendum in its former territory of East Timor, where 80% of the population opted for independence despite a brutal military campaign to intimidate voters to choose autonomy within Indonesia.

The war in Aceh, one of the longest-running conflicts in the world, has its roots in the occupation of the independent Aceh sultanate by Dutch colonialists in 1870.


Acehnese feelings of 'Indonesia-ness' stronger after tsunami: survey

Feb. 22, (Kyodo) - The Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami disaster that devastated Indonesia's restive province of Aceh, killing 123,071 people, has strengthened the Acehnese people's sense of Indonesian identify, according to the results of a survey released Tuesday.

The survey, carried out by the independent Indonesian Survey Foundation in collaboration with the government's Social Affairs Ministry, showed that 76 percent of the approximately 700 Acehnese respondents feel proud to be Indonesians and 74 percent would go to war to defend the country.

"Unexpectedly, the sense of Indonesia-ness among the Acehnese people is very high," Denny Januar Aly, the foundation's executive director, told a press conference.

"Politically, the majority of the Acehnese people is proud of being Indonesian... although the disaster they experienced doesn't change the fact that there is a feeling of disappointment with conditions in Aceh," Aly said.

"The data is enough to show that the separatist Free Aceh Movement has not taken roots in the Acehnese community," he added.

GAM, as the separatist movement is known, has been waging a guerilla war in the province on the northern tip of Sumatra since 1976, demanding separation from Indonesia. Thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

The rebels have long accused the government of milking the province of its natural resources and failing to keep promises to implement autonomy there.

The two sides are now meeting in Helsinki, with the rebels reportedly saying they would drop their independence demand if Jakarta withdraws troops from Aceh and allows for meaningful self-rule, including provincial elections in which GAM could contest as a political party.

Particularly before the quake and tsunami disaster, the Indonesian military was widely viewed among Acehnese as something to be afraid of because of its bad human rights record.

But the survey showed that almost all Acehnese respondents feel that government soldiers have been helpful to the disaster victims, while only about half feel that way about GAM.

"The Aceh disaster can be a momentum to bring the military closer to the Acehnese people and keep them off GAM," Aly said.

Sixty percent of the respondents, however, expressed disappointment that the Aceh reconstruction process has not paid sufficient attention to the wish and aspirations of the Acehnese people.

"The Acehnese people want to be more involved and invited to participate in the disaster management process and Aceh's reconstruction." Aly said.

"It will be very bad for Aceh if local residents feel they only become an object or guest in the process of reconstruction in Aceh that has been dominated by foreigners," he added.


The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
February 22, 2005

National News
CMI: Special autonomy the only alternative

Top-level delegations of the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) kicked off a second round of peace talks on Monday, with a strong message that special autonomy for Aceh would be the only consideration on the agenda.

"I think it's extremely important that everyone understands that we are not starting negotiations, and they are not open, as such, so that all possible alternatives could be considered. We only have one (alternative)," former Finnish president Maarti Ahtisaari, the chairman of facilitator group Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) said as quoted by Reuters.

"The whole exercise is aimed at looking at whether the possibility of... special autonomy can actually provide the basis for ending the armed conflict."

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said that his government would discuss "special autonomy and topics around that" for Aceh, where over 12,000 have been killed in three decades of fighting.

The autonomy deal Jakarta has offered includes concessions towards self-rule and Islamic law in the devout Muslim province and a larger slice of the revenue earned by the province's natural resources.

GAM spokesman Bachtiar Abdullah, however, said special autonomy, or any other political solution, should not be listed as the top agenda for the talks. He stressed a cessation of hostilities in the province was more urgent for the time being.

"If special autonomy is part of 'the peace package', then it should not be top of the list. The Indonesian government can offer it (the special autonomy) now, but we can discuss it months later only after both parties are able to prove their commitment to a cease-fire," Abdullah told The Jakarta Post.

In the January meeting, GAM highlighted three points as its desired first steps for the conflict resolution in Aceh, including a cease-fire, the withdrawal of the 40,000-strong Indonesian force from Aceh and the lifting of the state of emergency in the province.

But Ahtisaari said a cease-fire should be part of a more comprehensive peace deal rather than an end in itself.

"We need the security arrangement, disarmament of people, but that has to come as part of an overall package that consists of many other details," he said.

Brought together by the Dec. 26 tsunami that devastated Aceh and parts of North Sumatra, where more than 235,000 people died or went missing, the two sides first met in Helsinki in late January.

It was the first face-to-face meeting between Indonesia and the GAM since 2003 and proved constructive enough to spark further talks aimed at a lasting peace for the gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

While the Helsinki talks were underway, violence broke out in separate locations in Aceh, leaving one soldier dead and seven others wounded on Sunday.

An Indonesian Military (TNI) spokesman, Col. D.J. Nachrowi, said on Monday the troops were killed and injured in a gun battle in Harapan village, West Aceh.

Another clash between GAM and TNI soldiers also occurred on Saturday along Aceh's west coast as the U.N.-affiliated International Organization for Migration was hauling goods and supplies destined for survivors, a spokeswoman said.

According to Simona Opitz, the organization's spokeswoman, one soldier was slightly injured in the fighting. She said no IOM members were targeted by the rebels.


The Jakarta Post
February 22, 2005

National News
Acehnese must define what's necessary for them

Among the dozens of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that arrived in Indonesia to help tsunami survivors was Finland's FinnChurchAid. Accompanied by its local partners, the NGO's representatives traveled to Meulaboh, West Aceh and Nias, North Sumatra. The Jakarta Post's Kanis Dursin interviewed head of humanitarian aid at FinnChurchAid Helena Manninen-Visuri in Jakarta last week. The following is an excerpt of the interview.

Question: What is your organization doing in Aceh?
Answer: We have a relief program going on together with our local partners. We have a water purification and sanitation program in Meulaboh and surrounding areas. We distribute clean water to IDP (internally displaced persons) settlements and clean up wells. We also build latrines at IDP settlements. In Nias, we have just started. There had been some distribution of relief goods and water and sanitation projects on the island.

Who are your local partners?
Our local partners are the YTB (Development and Relief Organization), a humanitarian group linked to PGI (the Communion of Churches in Indonesia). The other one is Yakum Emergency Unit, which specializes in the health sector and water and sanitation and trauma healing.

What relief goods did you provide for tsunami victims?
In the beginning, our partners provided tents, food, medicine, mosquito nets, household equipment, stoves, school kits, mattresses and clothes. I heard they still need those goods, especially in faraway villages.

There are a lot of organizations in Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, but if you go to villages further away, there are no relief workers, while the needs are so big.

How much money are you allocating for Aceh operations?
We have set aside 1.1 million euros (US$1,43 million) and will consider the most urgent needs as the reconstruction process is about to start.

What problems have to be resolved immediately?
I think it is the access. Roads and bridges have to be repaired as soon as possible so that we can transport goods to faraway villages. I also hope that telecommunications will be restored soon as we want to ensure that local people and their needs are being heard.

We have to respect the needs of local people as we want them to take responsibility for the programs. We also don't want to define what is necessary for the Acehnese. We want the Acehnese to tell us what they need and we will support them.

What do the Acehnese need now?
The issue of their livelihoods is also very important. They need some basic services, like health and education, and they need to restore their livelihoods. Farmers should be helped to cultivate their farms again, and fishermen must be supported so that they can go fishing again. They cannot depend on grants for ever and actually Acehnese themselves don't like the idea (of depending on grants).

How can your organization help in the reconstruction work?
We have made some plans as to how to support reconstruction and will take into account local people's needs. If they say that, OK, here are 10 villages, then we can count how much money we have in our pocket. (And) it is very important that the reconstruction process is well coordinated as there are so many organizations involved in Aceh.

What are your plans for Aceh and Nias?
Actually, they are being finalized and should be available via the Internet next week or the week after. Our reconstruction plans are for this year and next year only. We will take responsibility for certain areas only.

Do you have plans for children orphaned by the tsunami?
There were some psychologists and nurses who really took care of some children with trauma and mental problems. But so far, we have no specific projects because the needs were so big that we tried to cover the general needs of all displaced people. There are a lot of specific problems that children have like trauma healing.

What is your comment on suggestions that foreigners were out to Christianize Muslim Acehnese?
I heard some religious (Christian) groups wanted to educate child victims. Any missionary activities should not be allowed in this kind of situation. For my organization and our local partners, such a campaign is strictly forbidden. Our members have all signed a code of conduct for humanitarian activities, the same code of conduct signed by the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.

Has the suspicion affected your operations?
I don't expect it to happen because we have not had problems anywhere else. We work in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and many other Muslim countries and it has always worked out fine.

But, should there be fears, we have to take time out and explain the principles of our engagement, that no evangelization or missionary activities are permissible during humanitarian operations.

How long do you think you will stay in Aceh?
I would think at least two years, and then we will consider the resources we have. We also have a principle that if we are engaged in a relief operation, we must also participate in the reconstruction and development. So, it may very well be that we will stay there for three years.


Following is statement by CMI on the ongoing peace talks in Finland

Talks on Aceh Continue: Details Discussed

22.2.2005 - The Aceh talks facilitated by President Martti Ahtisaari have continued in Königstedt Manor in Vantaa on Tuesday, February 22.

The delegation of the Government of Indonesia and the representatives of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) have tackled the issues of Monday’s agenda, but now even details have been discussed. The talks on Tuesday morning have concerned especially the provincial elections, political participation and human rights.

President Ahtisaari will host a press conference on Wednesday, February 23, at 15.00 hrs at the department of communication and culture of the Foreign Ministry, Kanavakatu 3 C, Helsinki. The MFA Press Center, located at Kanavakatu 3 B, will be open for foreign correspondents from Monday, February 21 onwards

Further inquiries can be directed to Maria-Elena Cowell, CMI Media Liaison Officer, or gsm +358 40 848 1769.


Australian Financial Review
Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Tsunami Aids Aceh Peace Cause
By Andrew Burrell

Two months ago, the endemic misery in Indonesia's Aceh province was hardly a fashionable cause.

The rest of the world had largely forgotten about the three-decades-long insurgency in the far-flung region, and Jakarta's rulers seemed to have run out of fresh ideas about how to end the bloody conflict.

But it took one cataclysmic event - the Boxing Day tsunami - to turn Aceh into a global byword for human suffering and to propel the beleaguered province to the centre stage of Indonesian politics.

Suddenly, Aceh has been transformed into a hugely important place for the world's governments - including Australia's - that have pledged billions in aid and sent troops to help with the massive relief effort.

Soon it will become equally important for foreign companies being offered a smorgasbord of opportunities in rebuilding the devastated province.

In Jakarta, the tsunami disaster has presented the new government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with a golden opportunity to end the separatist conflict once and for all.

And the good news is that despite the inevitable myriad difficulties in achieving any sort of peace deal, Jakarta has grabbed that opportunity with both hands.

For the second time in three weeks, three of Yudhoyono's senior ministers are meeting exiled leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Helsinki, in talks being mediated by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

While this is commendable, it should also be remembered that it has been tried before.

The most recent peace talks in 2002 led to a ceasefire which broke down completely in May 2003, when Jakarta boosted its military presence in Aceh in a vainglorious bid to finally crush GAM.

That decision represented yet another failure in Jakarta's 30-year effort to quell the separatist rebellion.

It led to thousands more deaths - including many innocent civilians - and an increase in resentment among ordinary Acehnese to Jakarta's rule and the military's often brutal tactics.

So what has changed over the past two years that may help provide the impetus for a breakthough in Aceh this time? The answer is everything, and perhaps nothing.

The tsunami, of course, was the event that changed Aceh forever.

While the death toll was mind-boggling, the disaster did have a silver lining: it created the best conditions imaginable for both sides to put down their weapons, bury the dead and work together on Aceh's recovery.

It also meant that foreigners developed a sudden interest in seeing peace in Aceh.

Within days, thousands of foreign aid workers and soldiers were arriving in a province that the military had largely sealed off to avoid scrutiny of its own brutality.

With many of those foreigners likely to be on the ground for years to come, Jakarta is less likely to be able to keep its dirty little war a secret.

Any return to full-scale fighting between the military and GAM would only embarrass Indonesia and would hinder the long-term reconstruction program in Aceh.

Another significant change this time round is that Indonesia is being led by Yudhoyono instead of Megawati Soekarnoputri, who was president at the time of the previous peace talks.

Megawati showed little active interest in resolving the Aceh problem - in fact, it was the more proactive Yudhoyono, then serving as senior security minister, who showed the greatest persistence in bringing the two sides together.

Another positive factor is that Aceh's wealthy governor, Abdullah Puteh, is languishing in a Jakarta jail, facing trial for alleged corruption. In 2002, Puteh was an opponent of the peace negotiations as well as a large impediment to clean and effective governance.

Last time, too, Megawati's hardline army chief, Ryamizard Ryacudu, was able to impose excessive influence over the whole peace process. But last week, Yudhoyono sidelined Ryamizard and replaced him with a more moderate soldier.

Amid the influx of civilian officials, foreign NGOs and international donors, the military's overall political dominance in Aceh is being reduced, although it is attempting to reassert control.

Any lessening of the military's might is crucial because it is the institution that would benefit most from preserving the status quo.

Soldiers in Aceh have long been able to supplement their low incomes by extracting bribes and controlling the illegal logging and the drug trades. The military also derives much satisfaction in using force to uphold Indonesia's territorial integrity; it believes its duty is to prevent Aceh going the same way as East Timor.

While there have been some positive recent changes, the problems in Aceh can also seem depressingly familiar. The two sides are no closer to resolving the definitive problem: GAM will ultimately accept nothing less than full independence from Indonesia, while Jakarta will never accept any loss of sovereignty.


AFP, February 23, 2005

Negotiators optimistic on day two of Aceh peace talks

Representatives of the Indonesian government and Aceh separatists were optimistic after a second day of peace talks, which focused on Jakarta's controversial offer of a special autonomy for the tsunami-swept province.

"I am optimistic. We are proceeding in the right direction," the Free Aceh Movement (GAM)'s Stockholm-based spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah told AFP after the day's talks concluded.

Indonesian Communication Minister and delegation member Sofyan Jalil agreed. "Of course there are difficulties but at least we are here and listening to each other," he told AFP.

The Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) foundation organizing the talks was also upbeat about the direction the Helsinki meetings were taking.

"The talks have been progressing in a good atmosphere and in a constructive spirit, and we are quite optimistic," CMI spokeswoman Maria-Elena Cowell said, adding that the negotiations had focused on "provincial elections (and) political participation for GAM", as well as human rights.

Despite the positive vibes coming out of Tuesday's talks, Abdullah denied a report earlier in the day claiming that his group had decided to accept the most controversial issue on the table: Jakarta's offer of limited self-rule for Aceh instead of full independence.

"I am very disappointed" at the report, he said, adding that "we're still working on this issue... The end result has yet to be determined."

Despite the hard bargaining, the Helsinki peace talks are considered a milestone in dealings between the warring sides.

When they met for an initial round at the end of January, it was the first time they had stood face-to-face since May 2003, when the government declared martial law and launched a major military offensive in the province.

More than 12,000 people have been killed since Aceh separatists began fighting for independence for the oil-rich province in 1976, claiming Jakarta plunders its resources and the army commits atrocities against its population.

The renewed efforts to reach a peaceful solution were prompted by a need for international aid to reach Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, the territory worst affected by the earthquake and tsunamis in December. More than 230,000 people were killed in the province alone.

Although both parties agreed during the first round of talks to "try to refrain from hostilities" during Aceh's recovery, the army has admitted killing more than 200 rebels since the tsunami struck.

And even as the latest round of talks got under way on Monday, Indonesia's military announced that one of its soldiers and two civilians had been killed when a group of 30 rebels ambushed troops who were on their way to carry out relief work in western Aceh.

Indonesia's armed forces on Tuesday warned that it could step up its military action against the Aceh separatists if a deal is not reached in Helsinki.

"If (the talks are) fruitless, then we should never hesitate to take strong action against these separatists... If GAM wants peace, then show it. Don't just attack Indonesian troops during humanitarian works," armed forces chief Endriartono Sutarto said.

"Effort to preserve order is the duty of any government," Communication Minister Jalil stressed when questioned about the threat.

Abdullah meanwhile insisted that the group was "still adhering to the call for ceasefire", adding however that "the situation on the field right now is very disappointing."

Like the first round of talks last month, the negotiations, which were scheduled to wrap up on Wednesday, are taking place at the secluded Koeningstedt estate outside Helsinki and being mediated by former Finnish president and career diplomat Martti Ahtisaari.


The Jakarta Post
February 23, 2005

Aceh peace talks to continue after breakthrough

Helsinki (Reuters): Aceh separatists and Indonesia will hold a third round of peace talks in Helsinki in April with rebels ready to drop demands for independence in exchange for Jakarta agreeing to consider self-rule, they said on Wednesday.

A second round of talks ended on Wednesday with progress made towards ending 30 years of fighting in the gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra island, which has cost more than 12,000 lives.

"The position of both sides (is) that we still have differences, but at least we are starting to talk substance," Indonesian Information Minister Sofyan Djalil told Reuters.

"We proposed special autonomy, they proposed the term self government. It's on the table, we need to discuss the concept," he said after the three-day talks ended in Helsinki.

A source close to the negotiations told Reuters that the next round of talks would be held in mid-April.

The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) had previously rejected offers of autonomy, insisting on independence, but both the sides were brought together by the Dec. 26 tsunami which hit Aceh hard. Almost 240,000 people are dead or missing and more than 400,000 were made homeless.

GAM's apparent change in position marks a possible turning point, though analysts and Indonesian politicians said hurdles remained, especially regarding what the rebels meant by being willing to accept self-rule instead of independence.

A preliminary peace agreement reached in 2002 fell apart partly over the issue of autonomy.

When asked if independence had been abandoned, GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah said on Tuesday: "The conflict cannot be solved like that and we have to come to terms with that."


The Jakarta Post
February 23, 2005

National News
Acehnese refugees place hope in peace talks
By Apriadi Gunawan, Medan

Acehnese displaced by the tsunami are closely watching the progress of a new round of peace talks between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Finland.

Most of the displaced Acehnese living in shelter in Medan believe the separatists want only one thing: to separate from Indonesia.

"I will stay here forever if Aceh separates from the country," said 28-year-old Wanda, who fled her home in Aceh Jaya regency in the wake of the Dec. 26 tsunami and is now living in a shelter managed by the Aceh Sepakat Association.

She fears what would happen if the province was given its independence, painting a picture of endless conflict as different Acehnese groups fought for power.

Wanda said Acehnese were often used as human shields by GAM rebels, but she also accused the Indonesian Military (TNI) of inflicting violence on the people of Aceh.

"We wish TNI and GAM would work together and protect the people because we have suffered enough," said Wanda, who has been in Medan since Jan. 7.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said earlier the Indonesian government would discuss "special autonomy and related topics" in Aceh, where 12,000 people have been killed in three decades of fighting.

The autonomy deal on offer reportedly includes concessions toward self-rule and Islamic law in the devout Muslim province, and a larger slice of the revenue earned by the province's natural resources.

A displaced person from Banda Aceh, Minandar, 56, is hopeful that this new round of talks in Finland will result in peace.

He said he was tired of hearing on an almost daily basis gunfights between the military or the police and rebels.

"This is a normal occurrence for us in Banda Aceh. At first we were terrified, but not anymore," said Minandar, who is still suffering breathing problems as a result of being caught up in the tsunami.

However, he said he would return to Aceh as soon as his health allowed him, insisting he was not frightened by the violence.

"Aceh is my home. No matter what the situation, I must go home to Aceh. I would be sad if Aceh was forever battered by conflict. I hope it will end soon," said Minandar.

Another displaced person from Banda Aceh, Firus, also expressed hope the conflict in Aceh would end soon. He said GAM should consider the government's offer of special autonomy, and that the government should in turn commit itself to honoring its pledges to Aceh.

"Aceh must rise (from the destruction and conflict). We need peace. Without peace it will be impossible for Aceh to recover and stand on its feet again," he said.

February 23, 2004

GAM Mulls Dropping Independence Demand

Laksamana.Net - Leaders of Aceh’s separatist rebels have reportedly agreed to drop their demand for independence for the resource-rich province at ongoing peace talks in Finland with the Indonesian government.

"The demand for independence is no longer on the table. They are demanding self-government now and the Indonesians understand this very clearly," Australian academic Damien Kingsbury, who is part of the Acehnese delegation, was quoted as saying Tuesday (22/2/05) by the Associated Press.

"Dropping that demand has moved the talks forward. Everyone is quite happy with the progress… It looks like they are coming back for a third round and indeed, even a fourth round," he added.

Free Aceh Movement (GAM) spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah confirmed the rebels were willing to consider abandoning their demand for a referendum on self-determination.

"The conflict cannot be solved like that and we have to come to terms with that. That is the main thing on the table. Of course in the negotiations we go with the tangible things that are on the table," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

But he denied a report that GAM had agreed to accept an offer of limited self-rule for Aceh. "I am very disappointed [at the report]… We're still working on this issue... The end result has yet to be determined," he was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

Rights groups say about 14,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since GAM commenced its fight for independence in 1976. The Indonesian military has been accused of responsibility for most of the deaths. Public support in Aceh for the rebels was initially low, but grew due to years of military repression, human rights abuses and economic exploitation.

Indonesian abandoned a truce with the rebels in May 2003 and launched a massive military operation aimed at exterminating GAM. There seemed no end in sight to the bloodshed until the December 26 earthquake and tsunami disaster, which killed about 240,000 people in the province on the tip of northern Sumatra.

The disaster focused international attention on the Aceh conflict and the government was strongly encouraged to return to the negotiating table with the rebels to ensure that almost $1 billion in foreign aid pledges could be optimally used.

Government officials and representatives and GAM’s leaders living in exile in Sweden first met in Finland over January 27-29 for talks organized by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari’s Crisis Management Initiative (CMI). The two sides discussed international aid and reconstruction in the aftermath of the disaster and agreed to the second round of talks.

The government is now offering the rebels a special autonomy package, which will give the people of Aceh limited self-government and free elections.

Ahtisaari's office said the talks were focused on a package of proposals, including a ceasefire, security arrangements, human rights and the international monitoring of any solution agreed by the parties.

Kingsbury said one of the main problems in the talks has been the form of autonomy Indonesia is willing to offer, as the Acehnese view "special autonomy" as the status quo and prefer the term "self government".

He said the Indonesian officials had agreed to take the "self government" concept back to Jakarta for approval or discussion. "This was a very significant impediment and, now it appears to have been at least in part resolved, the substantive issues are now starting to move," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Communication and Information Minister Sofyan Djalil concurred the talks were progressing well, but said there were still some issues to be resolved. "Of course there are difficulties but at least we are here and listening to each other," he told AFP.

CMI spokeswoman Maria-Elena Cowell was also pleased with the progress in negotiations. "The talks have been progressing in a good atmosphere and in a constructive spirit, and we are quite optimistic," she was quoted as saying by AFP.

Another CMI official, Pauliina Arola, sounded less optimistic. "The situation is very hard and challenging. It is difficult to assess whether both sides are willing to give and take," she was quoted as saying by Reuters.

It remains to be seen whether friendly talks between government officials and senior GAM figures from Sweden will put an end to the conflict on the ground between armed rebels and the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI).

GAM declared a ceasefire after the disaster, but TNI said operations against the rebels would continue in order to stop them from stealing aid. The Army claims to have killed more than 200 GAM members since the tsunami hit, but the rebels say most of the dead were civilians.

TNI on Monday said one soldier and two civilians were killed, while seven soldiers were injured, when a group of 30 rebels ambushed troops carrying out relief work in western Aceh.

‘Firm Action If Talks Fail’
TNI commander General Endriartono Sutarto on Tuesday said the government should not hesitate to take firm action against GAM if the peace talks fail.

"If the peace talks end in failure, I hope the government will not be reluctant to take resolute actions against GAM," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara.

He said the previous peace talks with GAM in Finland had also failed to produce results, so if the rebels really wanted a peaceful solution they should show it in their conduct.

"If they really want a peaceful solution, they should show it to us. They should not attack or disturb government or military personnel who are engaged in humanitarian operations in Aceh," he said.

Asked about the possibility of TNI committing human rights violations if tougher action is taken against GAM, Sutarto said state troops were at all times obliged to conduct their operations in a "clean" way.

"War is not always dirty because it has its own rules of the game," he said, adding that TNI would always avoid human rights violations but if it ever happened, the strongest possible measures would be taken against the perpetrators.

In 2003, TNI responded to widespread allegations of human rights abuses by sentencing three soldiers to between two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half years in prison for raping four women; while 12 soldiers accused of assaulting villagers received disciplinary measures ranging from a strong warning to a three-week jail term. Strongest possible measures indeed.

Rights groups at the time accused TNI of focusing solely on the rape and assault cases to divert public attention from reports that soldiers were murdering innocent civilians, including children.

TNI spokesman Major General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin said Tuesday the military would soon begin gradually withdrawing its humanitarian task forces from Aceh.

"Recovery operations in Aceh will eventually be entirely run by the civilian government agencies so that the military task forces may begin to be withdrawn at the end of this month. They would include TNI personnel who have so far been involved in humanitarian operations," he was quoted as saying by Antara.

Eventually, only military units responsible for “security restoration efforts” would remain in Aceh, he added.

Antara reported there are 39,000 TNI personnel working in Aceh under the directives of the province’s Iskandar Muda Military Command, while 600 are involved in humanitarian operations.

Foreign countries involved in the relief work in Aceh have been withdrawing their personnel from the province over recent weeks, in line with Indonesia’s directive that foreign troops leave by March 26.

February 23, 2004

TNI Welcomes GAM’s New Stance

Laksamana.Net - Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) commander Endriartono Sutarto has praised the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) for offering to drop its demand for independence in peace talks with the government.

"That’s good, that we can resolve the problem without having to forever isolate them, let alone by taking up arms,” he was quoted as saying Wednesday (23/2/05) by detikcom online news portal.

“If arms are taken up, the end result is casualties among the public and themselves [GAM] and TNI. For what?” he added.

GAM officials and Indonesian ministers on Wednesday concluded a second round of peace talks in Finland with progress toward ending almost 30 years of deadly conflict in resource-rich Aceh province.

A third round of talks is expected to be held in April, after Indonesia discusses GAM’s offer to abandon its demand for an independence referendum in return for self-government.

"The position of both sides [is] that we still have differences, but at least we are starting to talk substance," Information and Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil was quoted as saying Reuters.

"We proposed special autonomy, they proposed the term self-government. It's on the table, we need to discuss the concept," he added.

GAM's apparent willingness to give up its 19-year fight for independence heralds a major turning point, though it remains to be seen precisely how the rebels define self-rule and whether they will acknowledge complete Indonesian sovereignty over Aceh.

Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia director for the International Crisis Group, said it was too early to call the rebels’ new attitude a breakthrough. “We have to find out what the fine print is. We don't know what the details are and we don't know what other conditions GAM might demand nor do we know how flexible the Indonesian government will be," she was quoted as saying by Reuters.

It also remains to be seen whether diehard nationalists in the military will be willing to accept anything short of an unconditional surrender by the rebels.

Sutarto, who is viewed as a moderate and professional soldier, expressed hope that GAM’s change of attitude would soon bring peace to Aceh, where about 14,000 people have been killed since the rebels commenced their fight for independence in 1976.

"If they have softened, which is what we hoped for, this gives a good indication that the conflict in Aceh can soon be resolved," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara.

If the peace talks succeed, he added, the two sides could join forces to rebuild Aceh in the wake of the devastating December 26 earthquake and tsunamis that killed more than 230,000 people in the province.

But he said ongoing “security operations” against the rebels would continue until TNI is informed of the government’s final decision on the outcome of the peace talks.

Sutarto also rejected GAM’s demand that Indonesian troops should be pulled out of Aceh. "Why must they be pulled out? If they [the rebels] have good intentions, they would not maintain their struggle, regardless of whether there are 1 million, 5 million or only one TNI personnel,” he was quoted as saying by detikcom.

Although GAM declared a ceasefire after the natural disaster, the Army has continued its policy of shooting the rebels. Rights activists say many of those killed are innocent civilians. There are also disturbing reports of refugees allegedly being assaulted by Marines for failing to provide information on the whereabouts of rebels.

The Aceh Working Group (AWG), a coalition of Indonesian human rights organizations, on Wednesday urged TNI, the government and GAM not to carry out any actions that could undermine the peace process.

“TNI must remember that it is an instrument of the state and must follow the policies of civilian authorities,” AWG executive coordinator Ori Rahman was quoted as saying by detikcom.

He said government negotiators must become more constructive, rather than continually focusing on the issue of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia versus independence for Aceh.

Rahman also said TNI and the National Police must also genuinely demonstrate their desire for peace by proposing a formal ceasefire.

‘Separatists & Terrorists’ & Hatred
Faisal Riza Rachmat, chairman of the Forum for Action and Studies on Democracy (Fosad), on Wednesday accused the government’s negotiators of kowtowing to GAM in the Finland peace talks.

He said a stronger stance must be taken or the government could end up accepting GAM’s demand that TNI and National Police personnel be withdrawn from Aceh and replaced by foreign troops.

“The government must be shrewd, this our sovereignty. Aceh is part of Indonesia, they [GAM] are nothing. We appeal to all the community to unite in the point of view that GAM are separatists or terrorists,” he was quoted as saying by detikcom.

Rachmat claimed GAM had been violent while TNI and police personnel were cooperating with all elements of the community to bring peace to Aceh after the tsunami disaster. "Moreover they [GAM] opened fire on troops and police that were working," he said.

He rejected the second round of talks between GAM and Indonesia, saying it had not achieved satisfactory results. “The government, through lobbying, has sought peace with GAM. But that is not possible and GAM cannot be approached by peace," he said compassionately.

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