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TNI backs peace deal with GAM 


JAKARTA (JP): The Indonesian Military (TNI) has thrown its weight behind an unprecedented peace accord to be signed in Geneva with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). TNI chief Adm. Widodo A.S. announced at Bina Graha presidential palace on Thursday that the two conflicting sides support the initiative as part of efforts to end violence in Aceh, where GAM has waged guerrilla warfare since 1976. "We have to look at it in a positive light. We hope this (accord) will contribute significantly to solving the problems in Aceh," Widodo said. "Every effort to solve the Aceh problem is worth making," he added. Earlier this week, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Tyasno Sudarto said the accord could help reduce casualties and end suffering in the resource-rich province. 

At least 300 people have been killed in a series of violence in Aceh this year alone. The joint understanding on humanitarian pause for Aceh is slated to be signed by Indonesia's permanent representative to the United Nations Hassan Wirayuda on behalf of the government and GAM's health minister Zaini Abdullah on Friday morning Geneva time. The event will take place behind closed doors and with the media kept at a distance. It is expected that the accord will reduce the level of violence and constitute a means to promote the confidence of people and the two parties in their common efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement to the decades of conflict. But citing the sensitivity of the situation and security concerns, officials declined to reveal detailed arrangements for the scheduled signing of the note. 

Foreign minister Alwi Shihab is scheduled to personally witness the signing. A ministry official has said GAM self-exiled leader Hasan Tiro would not be present, but the Stockholm-based rebel leader had "kept a watchful eye" on all three dialogs preceding the signing of the accord. The Geneva-based Henry Dunant Centre for promoting humanitarian dialog, which sponsors the historical event, has offered a "fair and impartial environment" to the two parties for the discussions. Despite his support, President Abdurrahman Wahid refused on Monday to call the pact a cease-fire, saying the use of the term would indicate government recognition of GAM. 

Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Surjadi Soedirdja reiterated the government's stand in the pact signing. "The signing is literally called a humanitarian pause, there is no other term for it," Surjadi said after attending a ministerial meeting at the vice presidential office on Thursday. The note of understanding, he said, was merely aimed at allowing Acehnese people "to breathe in fresh air" amid their daily suffering. 
"During the interval, people can make their lives better, and allow all parties concerned to contemplate. It turns out that life is enjoyable in the absence of conflict," Surjadi said. 

Such an atmosphere could encourage all parties to follow up on their efforts until peace is achieved, he said. Many believe the government's move to punish the perpetrators of past atrocities in Aceh contributes to efforts to secure a political settlement that will prevent the province from seceding. A joint military-civilian court is now trying 24 TNI soldiers and a civilian charged with the premeditated murder of Islamic teacher Tengku Bantaqiah last year. Another four human rights abuse cases are in the pipeline. 
Surjadi underlined Abdurrahman's refusal to call the signing of the joint understanding a cease-fire, and warned that the government would undertake "every possible means" to keep Aceh part of the country if the accord failed."The memorandum of understanding is just a means. If it falters, we will take them on again. It is only natural to make sure that Aceh will not break away," he said. Meanwhile, GAM's representative to the signing, Zaini, said a cease-fire would last for three months and begin 15 days after the signing of the memorandum, which was written by the two sides during secret meetings that began in February. 

"Such a truce would be very important for the Acehnese because we don't want fighting any more," Zaini told AP in a telephone interview from Stockholm, where he is based, before flying to Geneva for the talks. But he added that while the rebels would abide by such a cease-fire agreement they would not drop their ultimate demand for independence. Discontent in Aceh has been exacerbated by widespread human rights violations by members of the Indonesian Military and unfair revenue sharing from exploitation of the region's natural resources. (prb) 




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