Jakarta – From a war-torn province to a peaceful province split into two? The possibility of Aceh being partitioned was raised during a closed-door meeting between Indonesian Minister of Home Affairs M Ma'ruf and the Committee for the Establishment of Aceh Lesuer Antara on Aug 26.
During the meeting, committee chairman Rhamat Salam claimed that the proposal to set up a second province, Aceh Leuser Antara, had won the support of a majority of people in the five regencies - Central Aceh, Southeast Aceh, Aceh Singkil, Gayo Luwes and Bener Meriah. The five provinces border Aceh and North Sumatra and are not strongholds of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), a signatory to the Aug 15 peace pact.
"Creating a new province in Aceh is necessary to ensure effective administration as the five regencies are located far away from Banda Aceh (the Aceh provincial capital)," Mr Rahmat said.
He quoted Mr Ma'ruf as saying that the creation of any new province in Aceh must not violate the Aug 15 pact. The MOU signed between the Indonesian government and GAM requires the central government to seek approval for all of its all policies in Aceh from the Aceh legislative council. The peace accord also states that Aceh's territory corresponds to the borders of the province as demarcated on July 1, 1956.
Mr Ma'ruf called on the people of the five regencies seeking the establishment of a new province to be patient. "The establishment of a new province will face numerous hurdles as regards to borders, governmental organisation, administrative offices and funding. It will also require a long political process," Mr Ma'ruf said.
He added that the five provinces should focus first on how to help build a permanent peace in Aceh following the peace agreement. "The government's current objective is to maintain Aceh as an integral part of Indonesia," he said.
According to the Post, the proposed partition of Aceh has won the support of the Indonesian military as it believes that partition would weaken the secessionist movement in the province.
In a sign of the tensions that remain on the ground despite the signing of the Aug 15 peace accord, Indonesian troops clashed with GAM rebels in Indrapuri area, Aceh Besar district on Aug 28.
According Lt-Col Irlan Suryadi, commander of the Aceh Besar combat unit, a 10-minute shootout broke out after his soldiers were attacked by about 20 GAM members. There were no casualties in the firefight. He said the incident had been reported to members of the Aceh Monitoring Mission.
* Govt vacillates on Aceh split proposal (The Jakarta Post, Aug 28)
* Troops, GAM members involved in shootout in Aceh Besar (Antara, Aug 29)