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Aceh: More Challenges from Geneva 
By Aboeprijadi Santoso, The Jakarta Post, May 17, 2000 

GENEVA (JP): It is a breathing space in what could become a long journey toward a final solution for Aceh. The agreement signed by the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Geneva last Friday (May 12), marks President Abdurrahman Wahid's (Gus Dur's) new approach to dealing with Indonesia's trouble spots -- a new chapter after East Timor. 

After only three meetings since January -- and only three months after Gus Dur took power -- a silent diplomacy has resulted in an agreement. The talks started on Jan. 27 in a surprisingly good atmosphere, sources here disclosed. 

With the help of the Swiss based Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a dozen or so people representing the two sides had several meetings and lunches -- sometimes privately using and joking in Bahasa Indonesia -- for four months to discuss the situation in Aceh, on which they ultimately held opposite views on its future. 

But the diplomatic process is a reminder of the ongoing painful reality on the ground. It was the pressing needs of humanitarian aid for refugees and other victims of violence and the Acehnese people's quest for a lasting peace, that pushed Jakarta and GAM to put their differences aside and sign "a Joint Understanding on Humanitarian Pause". 

To carry out the accord, two Aceh-based joint committees will facilitate humanitarian aid and monitor the security situation; another team will observe the implementation; and a Joint Forum in Geneva will decide on the progress. 

In stark contrast to the fate of the East Timorese, who, despite their similar tragedy, were treated by the New Order as (in the words of former president Soeharto) "a pimple on our face", Acehnese rebels in Sweden were dealt with as brothers of a different political persuasion. 

Only a few slips of tongue at high levels in Jakarta occasionally led to angry responses from GAM. Given the sensitivity, the talks were clothed in secrecy. 

GAM leader Tengku Hasan M. di Tiro was always present in the same building and while he never took part in the talks, he was regularly consulted by his men. As GAM chose a low profile, so too did Jakarta diplomats. The two sides respected each other while engaging in discussions, sources said. 

Under President Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia, therefore, faces its rebels with dignity. For the first time since independence, the central government has been willing to hold direct talks with rebels. In the past, rebellions always ended with military means. No dialogues were held with Darul Islam and the regional rebels in the 1950s. 

Left-wingers were massacred in the mid-1960s. In East Timor, a cease- fire, secretly agreed by Fretilin's commander Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao and Col. Poerwanto in 1983, was only short lived: it was the example par excellence of the New Order's belief in military solutions. 

In the case of Maluku, by contrast, Gus Dur started a dialogue to deal with the political-humanitarian problems by involving Maluku people from the Netherlands, including some ministers of RMS, the South Maluku Republic -- a separatist group, who may not even be politically representative of the Maluku people today. 

As for Papua, officially Irian Jaya, "we will have a dialogue in Timika," the President promised OPM (Free Papua Movement) leader Victor Kasiepo when he visited the Netherlands recently. 

In a symbolic-reconciliatory gesture, Gus Dur added jokingly, "We will have meals together, but for me it will not be babi guling (Papua dishes with pork are forbidden for Muslims), but ayam guling (fried chicken)." 

Now, the Acehnese from GAM "are not enemies, they are our brothers," Indonesian diplomats said, echoing Gus Dur's open and reconciliatory spirit. 

But differences, of course, remain. According to Indonesia, the accord is a "joint understanding on humanitarian pause", not an agreement and no mention of "cease fire", but GAM calls it an "agreement for humanitarian pause and cease-fire". 

With Jakarta treating GAM as "siblings" and GAM viewing Jakarta as a "successor of Dutch colonial rulers", it should be clear that there can be no question of mutual, diplomatic or de jure recognition since neither side would be interested in it. 

The concept of "humanitarian pause" is seen as a means to avoid legal problems. To avoid complications, Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab canceled his plan to attend the ceremony. 

At best, the accord implies that Jakarta de facto cannot avoid GAM -- just as GAM, now weakened by division and international isolation, needs Jakarta. 

But, doubts arise whether the talks will go further beyond humanitarian and security topics per se and enter into substantive political issues, since Indonesia basically wants to keep Aceh on board, but GAM claims a right to independence. 

The accord is just "an initial step," GAM says. But, it's "an early step of a hundred-step journey" to find a final solution, concurred ambassador N. Hassan Wirajuda, who, a few years ago, mediated the Manila-Moro conflict. 

"In Mindanao (now acquiring a greater autonomy instead of independence), we met about 80 times," he explained with guarded optimism. 

Peace and security will only come if all armed units -- the Indonesian army (TNI), AGAM (GAM's army) and what the accord calls "the third party" -- can be disciplined and controlled. 

With some Aceh districts increasingly militarized since last January (the end of the Ramadhan holy month) by many parties, the "Velvet" peaceful public protests, seen until December, have now gone. 

If violence continues, an Acehnese has argued, it will only remind many Acehnese with anticolonial sentiments, of what they still call (after the Dutch term) the era of Atjeh Moord (Aceh Killings) early last century when political killings happened almost every day. 

The crux of the problem is that no one has been able to map out this "third party", which reportedly includes TNI's "GAM" elements, GAM's "wild" elements or whoever are known as "provocateurs". 

According to the accord, TNI and other armed units will not be withdrawn, but the police should function to maintain the rule of law. Since the Geneva accord aim is to stop any military action, the key factors will be how and when to curtail these various "provocateurs". 

So, as one local observer, Humam Hamid, has argued, "once the Indonesian Police and AGAM units are ready to patrol together, then, and only then, there would be an important sign toward peace and security". 

If, therefore, the accord is fruitful, it may crucially strengthen the Geneva parties. For the weakened and isolated Hasan di Tiro-led GAM, it will strengthen its position vis a vis other GAM factions and push them to unite. 

Equally, the success of "Geneva" will be a kind of leverage, strengthening the efforts of the President -- "the man behind the chess board", one diplomat said -- to control the recalcitrant military elements in Jakarta and Aceh. 

It will certainly enhance his credibility to resolve the trouble spots. With "Geneva", Jakarta now concurs with GAM to regain the trust of the Acehnese by reducing violence. In three months, as the first phase of the truce ends, it may also help the President face challenges at the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) in August. 

But the stakes may equally be high. For any great failure will complicate the matter and endanger the solution for Aceh. The Geneva accord is, thus, a challenge for the elite of all sides, and a hope for the Acehnese people. The writer is an Amsterdam-based journalist. 

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Last modified: October 05, 2000