Top legislators decry Aceh referendum bid

In comments aimed at Gus Dur, Akbar Tandjung says any such decision must have backing of Parliament and MPR.

TOP Indonesian legislators led the charge yesterday in opposing Aceh’s bid to hold a referendum on independence, warning that the country would face disintegration if the troubled province voted to go its own way.

Even as President Abdurrahman Wahid ordered Human Rights Minister Hasballah Saad to go to the territory for meetings with Aceh’s elite and to try and defuse a potential political time-bomb, leaders of Parliament and the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) rejected any moves by Aceh to break away.

Speaker of Parliament Akbar Tandjung told reporters that the 500 newly-elected legislators were not in favour of a plan to allow an East Timor-style referendum in Aceh. “If I can say so, the feeling of all the parliamentary members is they don’t want to give a referendum which leads to a separation from the territory of the Republic of Indonesia,” he said.

In comments which analysts say were aimed at warning the President that he could not act independently on the matter, Mr Akbar said that any decision on holding a referendum must have the backing of Parliament and the MPR. “Don’t let it reach a point where a referendum takes place, because if that happens, it could become a precedent where similar demands will be made by other regions,” he said.

The speaker of the MPR, Indonesia’s highest legislative body, Dr Amien Rais – who only months ago supported moves for a referendum in Aceh when he was in the opposition – went a step further and painted the spectre of Indonesia disintegrating if the government allowed Aceh to go it alone.

“If Aceh breaks away, we will break apart,” the Antara national news agency yesterday quoted him as saying.

But he added that Indonesia must take seriously the demands by the province for a referendum: “I am sure that Aceh is part of the nation of Indonesia but their will for a referendum must not be under-estimated.”

The President, who postponed his trip to the US to return home to tackle the Aceh issue, yesterday held talks with Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Wiranto and Dr Amien to see how best to resolve the matter.

Sources said that Mr Abdurrahman, under pressure to satisfy both the Acehnese and Jakarta elite, was keen on a “full autonomy” proposal as a compromise solution.

Legislation on revenue-sharing, agreed in April this year, proposed that 15 per cent of oil revenue would go to the provincial government and 85 per cent to Jakarta. Provinces would also get 30 per cent of gas revenue. But Mr Abdurrahman wants to offer Aceh 75 per cent of its annual revenue.

Minister for Regional Autonomy Ryaas Rashid told The Straits Times that any autonomy plan was the best way out of the current mess.

“I think this is the best solution for now. Neither side stands to lose and Aceh will still be part of Indonesia.”

As an immediate step to calm nerves, Mr Abdurrahman instructed Mr Hasballah to head for Aceh to meet leaders there for a dialogue. Mr Hasballah, who was expected to leave on Saturday, said the government was hoping to open the first human rights abuse trial in Aceh next week.

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