'This time there's much more will to make it work'

The Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) of the European Union and ASEAN has started its task of monitoring the implementation of the historic peace agreement between Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The following is an excerpt of a recent interview with the chief of the mission, Pieter Feith, who spoke with The Jakarta Post's Tiarma Siboro in Banda Aceh.

Question: Despite the signing of the peace agreement, some Acehnese were still reluctant to commemorate Indonesia's recent Independence Day, which falls on Aug. 17, saying they had gained nothing since independence and would rather raise the GAM flag. Your comment?

Answer: All Indonesians, including the people of Aceh, should feel comfortable and happy about Indonesia's Independence Day. So they should all rejoice on that day as the day of national unity and reconciliation. We hope next year there will be an even greater celebration as we hopefully conclude this mission successfully and as autonomy is set up for Aceh.

GAM's flags will not be tolerated anymore after the signing of the agreement. As seen in the memorandum of understanding (MoU), after the elections, the administration can decide upon a new flag for Aceh and a hymn and other symbols. That is not a decision for GAM. That is a decision for the elected legislature and the administration of the future autonomous province of Aceh.

What preparations is AMM doing to carry out its mandate?

We now have an initial presence here to make sure that we are fully prepared for Sept. 15 (the scheduled withdrawal of non-organic security forces according to MoU). We are already assuming tasks that we thought would be expected after Sept. 15. I'm referring to individual GAM members who are already coming forward with their arms and the TNI which (began to) withdraw troops on Monday.

What problems are expected in the field?

It's a question of ensuring security and safety, especially after they have laid down their arms. But we count on good arrangements with the police and with the TNI. I was encouraged by the handling of individual GAM members the other day (who came to deliver their arms). The weapons were taken into custody at the local police station and the GAM were treated with respect. That was exactly how it should be done.

I have also met with GAM leadership in the field. I think they are very much looking forward to the implementation of this MoU.

They assured us that they would fully comply with the direction from (their leaders in) Stockholm, not their (local) commanders.

What if the parties violate points in the agreement?

I have no enforcing power. I think it is entirely sufficient for me to be able to bring my case to the highest political authority in Jakarta and the GAM leadership and I expect they will help me deal with any violations or problems that may arise.

How will you deal with those with weapons but who are not in uniform, including civilians and possibly militia members?

We have (contact with civil society) and we will ask them to support our efforts, but my mandate is limited to dealing with the GAM disarmament and demobilization, as well as with the withdrawal of TNI and police forces.

There is a provision in the MoU which deals with illegal weapons and we trust that the TNI and the Indonesian authorities will see to it that there is no manifestation of the militia phenomenon.

The collapse of the previous Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) was in part because GAM refused to disarm, and TNI did not withdraw its troops either. How wily you prevent this from happening again?

I believe that there is another difference between the current agreement and the COHA. Now there is much political commitment from the President and the Vice President (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla), and also from GAM's political leadership. So, this time we will see a much greater intention to make it work.

How will you deal with the amnesty issue as it may have repercussions on politics within Indonesia?

This is the responsibility of the Indonesian government and I respect that. So, I'm happy being entrusted with the task of monitoring the human rights situation, but in a forward-looking manner. I will look into the human rights situation and problems that may arise with the reintegration (of GAM members) in the context of the decommissioning process. So I will focus on the aftermath of the amnesty granting, the decommissioning, and then I will monitor the human rights implications.

Will you be able to complete all these tasks in the short six months of your mandate?

What we can do is to complete the decommissioning and the redeployment, then we will monitor (the MoU implementation) for another two months, but then we will have less military or decommissioning expertise. We will then focus on the human rights situation and the legislation change. We have a community program with the European Union and we will maintain its presence.

We want to ensure that this whole process will become self-sustained before we recommend the end of our presence.

Could you elaborate on your task of monitoring the reintegration of GAM members into society?

We are working together with the International Organization for Migration. We hope to get a list of amnestied prisoners and detainees, as well as a list from GAM about its supporting fighters who are going to lay down their weapons.

These lists will be the basis for registration and then for tracking and ultimately for giving them assistance.

Active GAM fighters who come out to lay down their weapons will be given an initial reintegration package. There will be support to the villages where they go through the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR, set up after the tsunami), and we expect that, also with the assistance of the European Commission, we can include these people in the program supporting recovery after the tsunami disaster.

* Published by The Jakarta Post on August 24, 2005