Indonesia offers Aceh greater autonomy but no independence

Nov 19, 1999 01:00 AM

Indonesia is prepared to offer greater autonomy to the oil rich province of Aceh but not full independence, says Defence Minister Juwono Sudharsono. In an interview, Sudharsono clarified the government's position over calls for independence in the north Sumatra province.
Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid earlier said a referendum should be held in Aceh, despite growing opposition from parliament and the military. But he did not specify what options would be on any referendum paper.
Sudharsono said independence was not an option: "The president is firm on that. The referendum will only consider two options: one is accepting the present arrangement; or two, greater autonomy." He also said the government would be very cautious before heeding calls from the military to impose martial law in Aceh, as a heavy police and military presence could provoke further unrest. There has been concern in Indonesia that the country could disintegrate after the successful pro-independence campaign in EastTimor.

Anti-Jakarta feeling is running high in Aceh after years of human rights abuses by the armed forces and what is seen as plundering of Aceh's wealth by the central government. Thousands of mainly non-Acehnese are fleeing. They fear an upsurge in rebel violence if the independence movement gathers pace. And rumours have been circulating that the separatist Free Aceh rebels will launch attacks on and around 4 December - the anniversary of the movement's founding.
Asked by the BBC if military law was an option, Sudharsono said the government was undecided. "We have to be very careful in even considering the application of a heavy military presence or police presence, precisely because of the sensitivity of the situation on the ground at the moment." The military has earlier complained about Wahid's demand that it reduce its presence in the province. Sudarsono said the military supported the Acehnese having a referendum on greater autonomy.
The government has also speeding up the court cases of five soldiers and police officers accused of human rights abuses in the province, as demanded by the Acehnese. The President's call for a referendum was criticised by the parliamentary speaker, Akbar Tanjung, because the house was not consulted before the announcement was made.
And a meeting of senior parliamentary officials and parliamentary leaders of various parties rejected any vote. They are concerned that a referendum could destroy the unity of the world's fourth most populous nation, which has 210 mm people spread over 17,000 ethnically-diverse islands.

Source: BBC via Iinoil
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