After 29 Years, an Aceh Peace Pact

The Aceh accord, to be signed on Monday, feels like a major gamble on the part of GAM, based on what we know from Sri Lanka.  In return for giving up their quest for a separate state and disarming, GAM may or may not be able to form a local party and take part in elections, while 13,000 members of the securities forces remain in the province.  The only explanation from afar is that GAM was getting beaten badly on the battlefield and decided to take the fight to the polical arena instead.  Will several hundred European monitors be sufficient to protect that political space without much formal autonomy or power-sharing at the center?  -- Editor

Indonesian officials and rebels agreed Sunday to bring peace to the tsunami-ravaged province.

by Tom MaCcawley, The Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 2005
Indonesia and separatist rebels in the province of Aceh agreed Sunday to a tentative agreement it is hoped will end a 29-year conflict in the tsunami- battered region.

Free Aceh Movement leader Malik Mahmud in his office in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden. He was at the Helsinki talks this past weekend.

The deal, to be signed in Helsinki, Finland, on Aug. 15, is expected to call for some 50,000 Indonesian troops [leaving 13,000 police and armed forces behind] to withdraw from Aceh and for 5,000 guerrillas to lay down their arms under an amnesty. The accord also breaks a political logjam by allowing representatives of the Free Aceh Rebels (GAM) to participate in local elections.

"It is a historic moment," said Indonesian Information Minister Sofyan Djalil in Helsinki. "Society can live peacefully and we can rebuild Aceh after it has been destroyed by the tsunami."

The Dec. 26 tsunami, which left more than 170,000 dead and some 400,000 homeless, prompted the Indonesian government and Acehnese rebels to return to peace talks that had collapsed in 2003.

Both sides came up with a last-minute compromise after Jakarta had initially resisted the GAM's proposal to become a political party. Negotiators said the details of the accord would not be released before the formal signing in August. Mr Djalil called the deal a "middle way."

Indonesian soldiers in Aceh

The second major hurdle in the talks was over a formula for the demilitarization of the province of four million people. Both sides agreed that an international mission, consisting of 200 European observers and 100 monitors from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, could oversee the process.

Many Acehnese say that such a task force would have been unthinkable prior to the arrival of thousands of international observers and aid workers in Aceh to help with tsunami relief. In May 2003, Indonesia had imposed a state of emergency in Aceh, restricting entry of foreigners to the province.

The opportunity for a peace pact emerged earlier this year when the GAM dropped their historic demands for independence. The most thorny issue in the talks, negotiators said, was that of political representation for the separatists. Jakarta had feared that allowing the GAM to run in local elections could lead to a referendum like the one in East Timor in 1999 that ended Indonesian rule.

Indonesian election laws currently only allow for nationally based political groups due to fears that provincial parties could encourage separatism elsewhere in the archipelago nation spread out over 13,500 islands. Every party in Indonesia must now have representation in at least half of Indonesia's 32 provinces and have headquarters in Jakarta.

After the tsunami

Jakarta had initially proposed that candidates of the GAM run for office as members of existing Indonesian parties. The GAM rejected the offer, saying they sought a "democratic solution," that would allow all groups in Aceh to form political parties.

"We are going to facilitate former members of the GAM to set up a political party that fits national criteria and is based in Aceh," Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla told reporters in Jakarta Sunday, adding that parliament must be consulted before allowing the GAM to launch its own locally based party.

The natural-resource-rich province of Aceh has been wracked by fighting since 1873, when Dutch colonizers invaded the sultanate. The GAM and the Indonesian government have been fighting since 1976.

The peace deal, if successful, is likely to smooth the way for reconstruction efforts in the province. The Indonesian government and international donors are spending more than $5 billion to repair the devastation of coastal Aceh caused by the tsunami. Since December, fighting between the GAM and Indonesian military has both hampered the flow of tsunami aid and held back economic development in the province.

GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah in Helsinki told Reuters that they had taken a chance on the deal with Jakarta "because we want to give the people of Aceh a chance to rebuild after the devastating tsunami and to provide them with the opportunity to determine their own internal affairs."

But, he added, "this leap of faith is not without risks, and we now require the Indonesian government to exercise full authority over the Indonesian military in order to allow this process to succeed."

In Aceh, the response was cautious. "It is too soon to tell," Mawardi, a newspaper seller, told the Associated Press. "I'm afraid that the same thing will happen as in previous agreements. I hope this time is different."

An earlier peace accord in the province unraveled in 2003 amid violations on both sides.


Stage Is Set for Indonesian Accord With Rebels on Monday

By Reuters, Aug. 10. 2005

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Aug. 9 (Reuters) - Parliament supports government plans to sign a peace agreement in Helsinki on Monday with rebels in Aceh Province to end nearly three decades of fighting, the house speaker said Tuesday.

The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono agreed on a draft deal with Free Aceh Movement negotiators in a fifth round of talks in Helsinki last month. But there has been concern that some factions in Parliament would not support a deal that made concessions to the rebels.

"All factions and Parliament commissions supported the effort by the government to solve the Aceh conflict," the speaker, Agung Laksono, said after a meeting between the president and lawmakers. Early in the talks, begun after the Dec. 26 tsunami left an estimated 170,000 Acehnese dead or missing, the rebel group dropped its demand for independence, and in the fifth session the government moved to accommodate the group's request for political participation.

Details are still fuzzy on that and some other points ahead of the scheduled signing on Monday. But Vice President Jusuf Kalla has indicated that the Free Aceh Movement could move to set up an Aceh-based national party within existing laws, and a purely local party could come later. Indonesian law currently bans regional parties.

A local party would require approval by Parliament, where the administration of President Yudhoyono and Mr. Kalla has a majority coalition, albeit a shaky one not prone to easily meeting every government request.

Aside from the political participation issue, the Helsinki agreement carries provisions for amnesty, disarming the rebels, withdrawing Indonesian troops and monitoring by officials and soldiers from the European Union and Southeast Asia.

"On amnesty and political parties, that would depend on the existing regulations," Mr. Laksono said. "Based on the agreement, there is still time in the next one to one-and-a-half years to discuss that."



Posted August 12, 2005