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Megawati to visit Aceh in December JAKARTA - President Megawati Sukarnoputri will in December visit Aceh province for the first time since she placed the rebellious territory under martial law nearly six months ago, an official said Wednesday (12/11/03). Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh said the president would inaugurate a number of projects during the visit and open a congress of about 4,000 Muslim leaders from across the province.
"I have asked the president to visit Aceh on December 21-23," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara after a meeting with Megawati in Jakarta. The governor said he had also asked Megawati to grant amnesty to about 2,000 separatist rebels who have been captured or have surrendered to Indonesian security forces since martial law was imposed in the province. However, he said the proposed amnesty would depend on approval from the House of Representatives.
He also said the former rebels would have to sincerely promise to remain united with the Indonesian motherland. The government placed Aceh under martial law on May 19 after abandoning an internationally-sponsored truce with the rebels and launched a massive military operation to crush the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Since then, an estimated 1,300 people have been killed, although the death toll has been difficult to verify due to severe restrictions on journalists seeking to directly cover the conflict.
The martial law period was due expire on November 19, but the government last week announced it would be extended for a further six months to give security forces more time to combat the separatists in the staunchly Muslim province. GAM has been fighting for independence since 1976 – angered by economic exploitation and human rights abuses perpetrated by the Indonesian military.
Megawati on Tuesday told a gathering of Muslims in Jakarta that Islam teaches its followers to love and respect their country. "It is in our faith that we have to maintain spirit and responsibility to defend the territorial integrity of the country," she was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post daily. "The 1945 Constitution is in line with the Koran, so maintaining national unity is not too much to ask from Muslims," she added.


General Elections Commission (KPU) chairman Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin on Wednesday expressed hope that next April's general election would run as scheduled in Aceh in spite of the continued imposition of martial law. However, he said "the results might not be as good as in other regions".

Peace in Our Time?

Megawati last visited Aceh on September 25, 2002, and spent a whole hour in the province – more accurately at the local airport – to inaugurate the maiden flight of Aceh’s first airline, Seulawah NAD Air. NAD stands for Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam – the province’s official name. During the fleeting visit she made only scant reference to the deadly conflict, which at that time had claimed an estimated 12,000 lives in the resource-rich province.
The president vowed to do her best to help the people of Aceh live peacefully as part of Indonesia. "I shall do everything in my capacity to enable myself to be with the Acehnese people to develop a secure, peaceful, prosperous and progressive life within the united family of our nation," she said.
Megawati apologized to the Acehnese for the brevity of her visit, claiming she was too busy to spend more time in the province. "The duty to lead this big nation and vast country has forced me to observe a rigid schedule. I hope I can pay another, but longer, visit soon to this beloved Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam province," she said.
The September 2002 trip to Aceh was Megawati’s second visit to the province since she took office in July 2001. She was jeered and booed during her first trip on September 8, 2001, when she tried to persuade locals to accept an offer of greater autonomy rather than seek independence. Delivering a speech before 2,000 people at Banda Aceh’s main mosque, Megawati sought forgiveness for “the mistakes” of previous governments, but the crowd jeered her and demanded a referendum on independence.
"I apologize enormously to the people of Aceh. Let us look to the future and forget the past. Because if we dwell on the past we will end up walking on the spot," she said. After being booed, Megawati angrily replied: "I am here as a guest in your land. I understand that the people of Aceh treat their guests with it not Allah's instruction that guests be welcomed in your homes?"
The president refuses to allow Aceh to hold a referendum on independence and her policies have led to an increase in carnage in the province. However, her administration has granted Aceh a special autonomy package, allowing the province to implement Islamic law and keep a greater share of the revenue from its vast natural resources. Many analysts say the autonomy offer doesn’t go far enough because it fails to bring the military to justice for its atrocities in the province.

Posted in Aceh conflict @ 12 November 2003 00:04 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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