Peace in Aceh – now comes the even harder part

Updated On: Dec 16, 2005

Jakarta – The threat of militia violence in Aceh has not materialised. Amnestied prisoners have returned home without incident. While both the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) have gone to great lengths to ensure that the peace pact they signed on Aug 15 hold firm, the real test has yet to come, said the International Crisis Group (ICG). 

      In its latest update on the Aceh situation, the Brussels-based think-tank said that future prospects of the peace process would depend on the success of the reintegration of former GAM members into civilian life and the legal process of incorporating the provisions of the Aug 15 agreement into legislation. 
     The ICG noted that many former GAM combatants who had returned spontaneously to their communities were now mostly unemployed. Disagreement between GAM leaders and the Indonesian government over the making of cash payments to facilitate reintegration was also holding up more comprehensive programmes to establish new livelihoods, the report said. 
     "If the problem is not resolved, the danger in the long term is that bored or jobless ex-combatants will turn to crime or seek to resume fighting," the ICG said.  
      The second hurdle is the legal process of incorporating the provisions of the peace agreement into a new law that must be adopted by lawmakers in the House of Representatives. 
      "The transformation of GAM from an armed movement to a political one hinges on this law, particularly its provisions on local political parties and the mechanics of local elections," the report said. 
      "The question is whether the parliament will accept the Acehnese draft without serious revisions."  
      The House recently threatened to derail the deliberation of the Aceh governance bill unless the government provided details of the peace agreement and its consequences.   
      In recent weeks, a fresh problem has cropped up: Whether there would be a provision in the law allowing for the division of Aceh into smaller provinces. 
      Groups claiming to represent 11 of Aceh's 20 regencies in the highlands and part of the west coast have been clamouring for the establishment of two new provinces.  
      GAM has opposed the move, citing the peace agreement which recognises Aceh's territory as it is now. "Such a reference (to allowing division) could undermine the consensus in Aceh around the current draft and ultimately, the peace itself," the  ICG warned.
       Despite the potential problems, the ICG said it was, on the whole, upbeat about Aceh's future prospects. As the group's Southeast Asia project director, Ms Sidney Jones, pointed out, "every time a potential obstacle has arisen" following the signing of the peace agreement, "wiser heads have prevailed".

* Aceh peace still faces major hurdles, ICG says (The Jakarta Post, Dec 14)