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Mediators Voice Concerns About Treason Convictions in Aceh - 2003-10-23

Mediators for Indonesia's separatist Aceh Province say they are concerned about this week's convictions of five rebel leaders for treason. The five men were arrested in May as they were about to depart Aceh for peace talks.

All five negotiators from the separatist Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, were liaison officers to a joint commission to monitor a ceasefire between the rebels and the government. They were set to leave Aceh on May 19th to attend last minute peace talks to save the collapsed ceasefire in Tokyo, when they were arrested on charges of failing to notify Indonesian authorities they were leaving the province.

On that same day, Indonesia President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh and launched a military offensive against GAM.

On Tuesday, an Indonesian court in Aceh found three of the rebel negotiators (Sofyan Ibrahim Tiba, Tengku Muhammad Usman, and Amni bin Ahmad Marzuki) guilty of treason and acts of terrorism. The remaining two (Nasruddin bin Ahmed and Tengku Kamaruzaman) were convicted on similar charges Wednesday. All were sentenced to between 12 to 15 years in prison.

The Swiss-based Henry Dunant Center - which sponsored the truce - says the convictions are worrying in terms of working toward peace. "We are concerned that these convictions may dissuade others in Aceh from coming forward and engaging in dialogue, but also [other negotiators from] elsewhere," says David Gorman who is with the center. "We are troubled with the convictions for that reason and also we hope that they're not being convicted for and charged with anything to do with the negotiations themselves and their role in it."

Chief lawyer for the GAM negotiators, Adnan Buyung Nasution, says the charges were manufactured by the Indonesian government. He says the terms of the truce specified that negotiators were guaranteed security of movement and cannot be arrested. "To me this is very absurd," he says. "Instead of appreciation to people who dare to participate in negotiations to find out a peaceful and amenable settlement, they were blamed and got punished."

Mr. Adnan says he will appeal the verdict, but has little hope his clients can receive a fair trial under martial law in Aceh.

GAM has been fighting for independence in the oil and gas rich province of Aceh since 1976. More than 12,000 people have died in the conflict, the vast majority of them civilians.

While GAM has been blamed for some human rights abuses against civilians in Aceh, international human rights groups blame the Indonesian military as well.