Indonesia military, rebels greet truce with caution


  • World
  • Tuesday, 16 Aug 2005

By Dan Eaton

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesia's military and Acehnese rebels on Tuesday cautiously welcomed a peace pact but each expressed doubts the other would stick to the deal. 

The pact, signed in the Finnish capital Helsinki on Monday, stipulates the rebels should surrender all arms, ammunition and explosives in four stages before Dec. 31 in tsunami-ravaged Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra island. 

Indonesian soldiers are seen after a briefing by military chief Endriartono Sutarto in a village outside Banda Aceh, August 16, 2005. (REUTERS/Supri)

In return, the Indonesian military must halve its current force to 14,700 troops, using a timeframe matching the decommissioning of Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels. 

"We will move all of our striking teams to residential areas. They will no longer conduct offensive operations to seek and destroy GAM," Indonesia military chief General Endriartono Sutarto told reporters after meeting soldiers at a base near the provincial capital of Banda Aceh. 

"Their job will be protecting people ... and if people are harassed we have the right to secure their safety," he said. 

The truce also requires the Indonesian police to withdraw their troopers and cut its force in Aceh to 9,100 personnel. 

GAM's armed wing told Jakarta-based Radio Elshinta they wanted to see the truce -- which essentially ends the rebels' three-decade long fight for an independent Aceh -- succeed but raised concerns whether the military would stick to the deal, the third truce in five years. 

"What is important is all elements of the Indonesian side must obey what is written in the agreement," said GAM senior commander Sofyan Dawood. 

"All GAM members in Aceh will not conduct any armed activity and we will avoid all actions that can disrupt the Helsinki agreement. In 2006, there will be no more members carrying arms." 

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT 

The two warring sides have been in similar positions before twice, only to see the situation spiral into chaos and conflict months later. 

Military spokesman Colonel Ahmad Yani Basuki said since the truce signing there has been no exchanges of fire with the rebels. 

Under the deal, the military also must notify the head of the 250-strong Aceh Monitoring Mission, comprised of monitors from the European Union and five Southeast Asian nations, whenever troops more than a platoon size move in the province. 

In Jakarta, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tried to convince parliament that the presence of foreign monitors in Aceh should not be seen as foreign interference. 

Several legislators oppose the move to negotiate with rebels and criticise the role of foreigners in the agreement. 

While parliament chief Agung Laksono supports Yudhoyono's peace policies, he voiced the concern of his peers in a speech opening the parliament's sitting session. 

"Along the lines of the principle opposing the internationalisation of Aceh, the government is asked to be alert over any possibility of hidden agendas of other parties after this truce," he said without elaborating. 

In Aceh there were mixed views of the international role. 

"I disagree if the monitoring team is all foreigners. They have little understanding of Indonesia and Acehnese politically and culturally," said Aswani, 25, a local worker for an NGO. 

But Nora, 24, a female university student, said foreign involvement made her optimistic. 

"I think we need that because Indonesia and GAM find it hard to cooperate. If two people are angry you need a third to keep things on track." 

Also optimistic was Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who heads the agency charged with rebuilding the province, shattered by the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami that left nearly 170,000 Acehnese dead or missing. 

"It means a lot. It was a big day for us. Things will be faster. Distribution of building materials can be faster," he said regarding the peace deal in an interview with Reuters. 

He said aid agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which had restrictions on the travel and working hours of their staff due to the insurgency, will now be able to operate with greater freedom as they carry out a $5 billion reconstruction programme over the next several years. 

(With additional reporting in Jakarta by Ade Rina) 

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