Independent Aceh not on the cards, says Gus Dur

President Abdurrahman’s turnabout on the referendum comes on the heels of strong pressure from the conservative Indonesian military.

INDONESIAN President Abdurrahman Wahid yesterday ruled out independence as an option in any referendum held in Aceh, just weeks after saying he was prepared to allow the Achenese a vote to determine their political future.

His announcement – seen by some in the restive province as backtracking on the possibility of staging an East Timor-style referrendum with independence as an option – came on the heels of strong pressure from the conservative Indonesian military (TNI).

Newly-appointed TNI Chief of Territorial Affairs, Lieutenant-General Agus Widjoyo, told The Straits Times in an interview earlier yesterday that a referendum which included independence was “a no go” and warned that Jakarta would crack down on separatist forces if they pushed ahead with their demands.

TNI spokesman Major-General Sudradjat was also quoted as saying in Jakarta yesterday that President Abdurrahman, who came to power just a month ago, should consult legislators before making decisions that could undermine Indonesian sovereignty.

Against the backdrop of such firmly-held positions – and opposition from legislative leaders to Aceh breaking away – Mr Abdurrahman told Aceh Governor Syamsuddin Mahmud yesterday that full independence for the province was not on the cards.

At their meeting in Jakarta, the Indonesian leader outlined the terms of reference for a referrendum.

It was not immediately clear what was on offer, but political observers speculated that the Acehnese would be given the option of maintaining the status quo situation, having greater autonomy or being given “special status”.

Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono said that if a referrendum was held, Mr Abdurrahman was prepared to allow the Acehnese to decide if they wanted to implement Syariah laws in the province, which is known among Indonesias as the “verandah of Mecca” because of its physical and religious links to the holy city.

“That is as far as we can go if we give them a referrendum,” he told The Straits Times.

“We feel that at the end of the day, Aceh will give Indonesia a chance by staying with us on terms that not even concepts like federalism can offer.

“They will get a fairer distribution of revenue, more autonomy and will be able to espouse the Islamic religion officially if they want to.”

Analysts said that the President’s offer would appease the military somewhat. It has been adamant about holding a vote on self-determination.

Professor Juwono made clear reference to this when he said yesterday that martial law could be passed in areas where there were bouts of violence that undermined national stability.

Separately, Lt-Gen Agus warned in an interview that the government would respond if there were attempts by groups in Aceh to break away by force.

“It is the equivalent of an armed rebellion,” he said.

He added that any referendum would have to be based “strictly on Indonesian terms”.

“Independence is out of the question as an option in a referendum.

“We might give them other options but not something that will shatter Indonesian unity,” he said.

He added that another round of military intervention in Aceh – after its decade-long territorial operation ended last year – would be “the last, last option” and would only be at the bidding of Mr Abdurrahman and his civilian administration.

But a member of the Free Aceh Movement told The Straits Times that the separatists had given Jakarta an ultimatum to hold a referendum by Dec 4, the date the movement celebrates independence day for Aceh.

“If they don’t meet our demands, then we will have to remind them again of our existence,” he said.

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