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Fragile Four-Year Peace Prevails in Indonesia's Aceh Province

By Brian Padden
Bana Aceh, Indonesia
11 August 2009

August 15 marks the fourth anniversary of peace in Aceh province in Indonesia. The tsunami that decimated the region in 2004, killing nearly 170,000 people, and the immense international relief effort that followed helped end a 30-year separatist war. The former leaders the Free Aceh Movement renounced their fight for independence in exchange for leadership roles and a degree of autonomy in Aceh. While peace prevails, it is still fragile.

Aceh's economy

Music and dance performances helped bring out large crowds to the Aceh International Expo. This is in part a celebration of Aceh's growing economic power as an exporter of rice, coffee, oil and natural gas. It is also a testament to the peace that has prevailed in the four years since the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, and the Indonesian government signed a peace settlement in Helsinki, Finland.

Chairul Nispa runs a Toyota dealership. He says since the Helsinki agreement, business is getting better, especially in the automotive business.

Instead of outsiders brought in by the Jakarta government, former Acehnese rebels are now in charge of the local government and local police are now in charge of security.

General Amiruddin Usman, the Aceh security coordinator for the Indonesian government, says the military has for the most part moved to bases outside the region.

He says the key to the success of the peace agreement has been the military's restraint in not engaging the former insurgents.

Under the peace deal, the local government gets 70 percent of the revenue from Aceh's huge gas and oil reserves. The Jakarta government gets the rest.

Lack of trust hinders peace

But analyst Teuku Kamaruzzaman says the peace remains fragile because neither side trusts the other.

He says it is not clear how the percentage of gas and oil revenue is determined. The central and local governments are still arguing over who will be the independent arbiter.

Human rights activists also protest the failure to create the truth and reconciliation commission that the peace agreement calls for. Hendra Budian with the Aceh Judicial Monitoring Institute says while it may be uncomfortable to those in power, it is necessary to account for war crimes and abuses that occurred during the decades of conflict.

"We cannot forget that. This is also for history," said Budian. "Otherwise it can repeat again. Why? Because there is no instrument to cut the cycle of the violence."

Crime remains a problem in region, because many ex-insurgents have not received the training or support to lead peaceful, productive lives. At an open-air restaurant in the rural district of Pidie Jaya, some villagers say the economic benefits of peace have not filtered down to them.

Unemployment, a threat to peace

One villager says it is hard to find jobs, mainly because of the lack of capital.

Hendra Budian says in place of the struggle for independence, unemployment and poverty are now the greatest threats to peace.

"We finished the vertical conflict in between Aceh and Jakarta," continued Budian. "If we cannot solve this problem we will move to another conflict which is what we call a horizontal conflict, Aceh and Aceh."

A group called Building Bridges To The Future has funded projects to help conflict victims in Pidie Jaya.

It organized adult education classes.

A student says in the past during the conflict, she could not go to school. There was no school.

The organization also provided 30 goats and training to others. The group now has 80 goats and earns about $40 a day selling milk. Selling a goat can raise more than $150. The group's members are digging a new well to irrigate their farms and improve crop production.

To insure a lasting peace, Budian says the local government must take over and expand education and development opportunities for all the people of Aceh.



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