Helsinki – After nearly 30 years of bloodshed, Aceh appears to be finally on the threshold of a new era when the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a historic peace agreement in the Finnish capital on Aug 15. While all parties are keeping their fingers crossed that the treaty will hold this time, there is no guarantee that the implementation of the peace accord will be plain sailing.
The peace accord was signed by Indonesia's Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin and Mr Malik Mahmud, a top GAM leader, at about (Jakarta time). The signing was witnessed by former Finnish President Marti Ahtisari, head of the Crisis Managemenet Initiatives, which had brokered the seven-month negotiations.
"We are witnessing here today the culmination of a peace process which led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding," Mr Ahtisaari said.
"It was a leap of faith by GAM," Mr Mahmud said, adding that "the days of darkness are behind us". The treaty calls for GAM to give up its armed struggle and accept Aceh as an integral part of Indonesia.
In return, the government says it will consider allowing the Aceh rebels to set up their own political parties. Minister Awaluddin said: "The distinctive line between 'they' and 'us' must be deleted."
According to a well-known American specialist on Indonesian politics, Professor William Liddle, several obstacles stand in the way of a smooth implementation of the peace accord. They include sabotage from GAM guerillas, the Indonesian military's actions and opposition from Indonesian legislators who are against the idea of allowing GAM to have its own political party.
"I believe that there are elements within the TNI (the Indonesian military) which are not satisfied with this agreement. GAM itself is made up of several factions and I am not convinced that all of them are ready to accept the peace accord," he said in a telephone interview from New York with Media Indonesia on Aug 12. Prof Liddle now teaches political science at the Ohio State University.
He said two things need to be done quickly now: Withdraw Indonesian soldiers from Aceh and get the Indonesian Parliament to amend existing laws to enable local parties to be set up in Aceh.
Mr Pieter Feith, the Dutch diplomat who will head the European Union's monitoring activities in Aceh following the signing of the peace agreement, acknowledged that "we don't have a guarantee that all of this will be smooth riding".
"But we have assurances, from the highest levels. And I have spoken really through the whole chain of command down to local commanders in Aceh," he said.
* RI, GAM sign peace agreement to end peace conflict (Antara, Aug 15)
* Government, Aceh rebels sign peace deal (The Jakarta Post, Aug 15)
* US analyst: RI-GAM MoU faces many obstacles (Media Indonesia, Aug 13)