Subject: JP: President may impose martial law in Aceh - Alatas

The Jakarta Post May 14, 2003

`Indonesia should learn from its failure in E. Timor'

Former foreign minister Ali Alatas talked to The Jakarta Post's Kornelius Purba about his views on Aceh. Now the advisor to President Megawati Soekarnoputri, he pointed out that Indonesia should not repeat the mistakes it made in East Timor, especially in regards human rights issues, in resolving the Aceh problem. The following is an excerpt from the interview:

Question: In your capacity as the advisor to President Megawati, and with your experience in handling the problems in East Timor and in Papua as a former foreign minister, what is your view on the current problems in Aceh?

Answer: I have always been one of those who, from the beginning, preferred that Aceh be resolved through peaceful negotiations -- for example, as we have tried through the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA).

We agreed in the COHA that one of the items on the agenda of the Joint Council dialog is to review this peace deal -- to make it better, but not to go beyond the terms of the agreement. We defined the word "review" as meaning that we would improve upon it. You review it, you look at it again.

COHA could have been the first good step toward resolving the problem through a peaceful path of negotiations. But I am getting very pessimistic now, and very concerned. I can now fully understand the concerns of the government and the limits to their patience because it is true that GAM, in the four months since the COHA was implemented, did many things that went completely against the agreement.

They never gave up their original purpose, nor have they changed their minds about not accepting a solution based on special autonomy for Aceh. Of course, they will have to rethink and to renegotiate this point, for which we are prepared. If the end objective between the two warring parties are disparate, it is very difficult to see eye-to-eye.

Why did the negotiations between the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and the Philippine government succeed? The MNLF, from the beginning, said, "OK, we drop our demands for independence. We accept a broad-based autonomy; but we want this and that." We needed two years to get to the agreement stage (in which Indonesia acted as a facilitator).

Look at Cambodia -- they were fighting for years, but when they agreed on the end objective, namely that the two sides would form a national government, that Cambodia would be a non-aligned, neutral country, and so on, negotiations could start. The negotiation, from start to finish, took from 1989 to 1991.

Now, look at Sri Lanka -- they waged a ferocious war against the government for many years. Now the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) have stopped their calls for independence; only after this could negotiations start in regards the special autonomy for them. It will certainly take a long time, but the end result is clear.

GAM, though, does not behave like that.

Q: What if they pretend to accept the autonomy, but still have independence on their minds?

A: That is why we are still keeping the door open to a possible Joint Council meeting, which has failed to materialize. But this time we must be very clear because independence can never be accepted -- it will not even be accepted by our neighbors, by other countries, because they continue to declare that they are against separatism. That is what we mean by the phrase, "We support the territorial integrity of Indonesia." That is another way of saying that we are against separatism.

Q: But many other countries said the same thing in regards East Timor, didn't they?

A: No, No, they never did because East Timor was not recognized by the UN (as part of Indonesia). They supported our efforts to find a solution. Only Australia recognized (our sovereignty over East Timor), but even Australia changed its position later.

Q: The President sent you to Stockholm to persuade the Swedish government to take action against GAM leaders residing there, didn't she?

A: I was sent there, first of all, to appraise the government of Sweden, which has given citizenship to one of the brains (behind GAM). But more importantly, two GAM leaders, Hasan Tiro and Zaini Abdullah, maybe more, are there. So I asked the Swedish government, why they still allowed them to mastermind, to lead an armed insurrection and separatist movement against the government of a friendly country? They are Swedish citizens who are interfering in the affairs of other country. They are leading an armed rebellion in Indonesia, which has caused great suffering and difficulties for Indonesia, for the Acehnese people. Was this allowed, according to international as well as national laws?

The Swedish government started by saying that they supported the sovereignty of Indonesia and our efforts to find a solution on the basis of special autonomy. But in regards this question of the two men, Sweden was very sensitive. Besides, they (the two GAM leaders) hadn't broken any laws in Sweden; they were law-binding citizens. This is why Sweden needed additional evidence from Indonesia that linked them clearly to the activities I mentioned.

I told them that no further evidence was needed.

Q: What can the government learn from our failure in East Timor, especially in resolving human rights violations?

A: We should learn from how we handled East Timor. We should learn from our past mistakes. In East Timor, I believe, there were a series of violations of human rights. Toward the end, especially, there were a lot of things that were done wrongly, for which we were severely criticized.

In East Timor -- we have to admit -- we failed to win the hearts and minds of the people.

Our approach there was security -- but an approach we held onto for too long.

Therefore, all our experiences must be lessons for us in what we choose to do and not do.

Q: How should the government face the Aceh issue?

A: Negotiate with the Acehnese people, talk to them directly; and therefore, we don't want to make it an international issue. But we can ask an NGO, the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), to act as a facilitator. Already on that score, we have received many criticisms from within the country, but it (the facilitator) is not from the government or the United Nations.

Q: As a senior diplomat, how do you perceive Aceh from an international perspective?

A: The world cannot deny the sovereign right of the government to deal with its own internal problems, especially when the internal problem is an armed insurrection. The only way, perhaps, that we open ourselves to foreign criticism is if we commit human rights violations. We should be aware that we can only be faulted if we again commit human rights violations, which, according to the view of the West, are to be criticized.

Q: But we have human rights issues now in Aceh, don't we?

A: It can be prevented now. Let us learn from the past, let us not repeat the same mistakes we made during the DOM (1989-1998 Military Operation in Aceh).

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