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Peace Monitors to Close Aceh Office after Threats - 2003-04-07

International peace monitors in Indonesia's Aceh province say they are closing another office in the province because of threats of violence against them. Officials from the Henri Dunant Center say the protests against them are organized.

A spokesman for the Henri Dunant Center says a crowd of up to 900 demonstrators gathered outside the HDC office in the town of Tapak Tuan in southern Aceh. Spokesman Steve Daly says the demonstrators issued veiled threats. "They demanded that the monitors leave by Friday," he said. "And our security people interpret that as an implied threat that, if they did not receive that letter promising to leave, they would perhaps attack the office or worse."

Mr. Daly says the HDC officials complied with the demand, and gave protesters a letter promising to leave the town by Friday's deadline.

This is the second incident targeting an HDC office in Aceh in two days, and the third incident against the Swiss non-governmental organization that brokered a historic peace deal between the Indonesian government and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement less than four months ago.

The two sides have been fighting a low intensity conflict since the 1970s. At the heart of the dispute is control over Aceh's wealth of natural resources, which include forests, oil and natural gas. The HDC has deployed scores of monitors across Aceh to monitor the December cease-fire.

Mr. Daly says the demonstrations are clearly organized by groups that want to undermine Aceh's peace process. But he would not say who that might be. "It seems sort of illogical to me that, in a situation where Aceh has seen the best possibility for peace in close to 30 years, that people would demonstrate against those people who are trying to bring peace," he said.

Indonesian government officials say that previous demonstrations outside HDC offices were carried out by people angry with peace monitors for failing to pursue alleged cease-fire violations on the part of the rebels. The Free Aceh Movement denies this, and counters that Indonesian security forces are forming militia groups to upset the peace process. Indonesian officials deny the charge. Mr. Daly says the peace plan, now in the disarmament phase, has stalled, with neither side agreeing on a plan to lay down their weapons.