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Aceh - Another Indonesian Tragedy?

Aceh - never heard of it? We may be hearing the name more frequently, however, because many Indonesian's feel much more strongly about the potential loss of Aceh province than they do about East Timor. Aceh looks likely to become a second national tragedy. John Howard Reports.

On the same day that peacekeepers were given the green light for intervention in East Timor, Aceh province now looks like blowing wide apart.

Aceh has been under special military status for the past decade and there have been widespread reports of army massacres and abuses including rape of Chinese Indonesian women over that time.

As an independent commission was visiting Aceh yesterday, for the first time, to investigate military abuses, seven leading political parties have announced proposals for "special autonomy" for this oil and gas rich violence-wracked Indonesian province. The moves betrayed Jakarta's deep concern about rising separatist activity in Aceh, a concern which has been highlighted by the East Timor crisis.

The proposed special autonomy for Aceh is close to the "comprehensive autonomy" offered by Jakarta to East Timor, which the East Timorese rejected in their August 30, United Nations-supervised ballot.

Aceh's deputy chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN), Jamaluddin Ahmad, spoke in Aceh's capital, Banda Aceh, on behalf of the seven political parties which won the most votes in June's general election, including ruling party Golkar and opposition frontrunner the Indonesian Party of Struggle. (PDI-P)

" We hope that at least a small part of the constitutional framework for the special autonomy for Aceh can become an input for the Government and the Parliament to strengthen the law number 22 and 25 of 1999 and the draft law on the special region of Aceh," he said.

He was referring to two recently passed laws on the sharing of provincial revenues between the province and the central Government in Jakarta, and a draft law recognising Aceh's specific customs and education.

He said the general outline of the proposed autonomy would leave foreign affairs, external security, fiscal and monetary matters and the judiciary in Jakarta's hands, with Aceh able to accept aid from abroad and from Jakarta.

The proposal is for Aceh to get authority over 70 per cent of the revenues from local oil and gas resources and over 60 per cent of other natural resources. These proportions are significantly larger than the respective 20 and 15 per cent allowed under the recently passed law.

The proposal represents an effort to buy off growing anger in Aceh at the presence of even more troops and riot police sent to the province by Jakarta.

The independent commission on Aceh is to investigate military abuses, starting with the most recent, on July 23 in the Betung Ateuh area of West Aceh.

Members of the team have been appalled by preliminary evidence gathering, which in the words of one member, spelled "Kopassus, Kopassus, Kopassus," the army's special forces now alleged to have manipulated much of the recent violence in East Timor.

Aceh, which played an important role in the nationalist struggle that led to the birth of Indonesia in 1945, is largely Muslim.

Hundreds of thousands of Acehnese are reportedly now rejecting any offers from Jakarta as being too little, too late.


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