In a turn of events that would not have been possible merely a decade ago, human rights activist from Aceh, Hasballah M Saad supported the nomination of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.
He insisted that President Yudhoyono peace overtures and initiatives in Indonesia's economy, society or education should be commended. Hasballah was reacting to criticisms targeting Yudhoyono`s nomination for the Noble Peace Prize by the US Congress. The criticisms harped on the President's inability to improve the country's economy. Hasballah's primary focus was on Yudhoyono's management of the Aceh conflict which he cited as the most important reason for his nomination. This was no small feat because the military, police and separatists had to be brought together to overcome a violent conflict that has lasted for decades.
While this is good news for the President, he still faces many challenges, including how to deal with the separatist movements in Papua. This may test the role of the President as the peacemaker, Nobel Prize or not. However, unlike Aceh, apparently most locals in Papua do not support independence. In a recent survey conducted by the Papua People's Council (MRP) most respondents do not favour independence but want to see stronger actions taken to address urgent problems like human rights abuses, income gaps and direct elections for their governor. Organizationally, the strongest opposition came from women's groups, the church, tribal assemblies and non-governmental organizations.
Papua will remain a thorny issue for some time to come, and how the President deals with the issue will be another test that will put Indonesiain the spotlight again.
*Most locals reject Papua split: MRP (JP, Feb 2)
*President Yudhoyono Deserves 2006 Nobel Peace Prize (Antara, Jan 31)