Why peace in Aceh may be for real this time

Updated On: Jul 29, 2005

Singapore - A record of broken ceasefires. Elements within both the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) who are not enthusiastic about peace since they have more to gain from war. Different interpretations as to whether the agreement allows for the Acehnese to form their own political  parties. All these have led many to wonder whether the peace accord on Aceh, that will formally be signed on Aug 15 in HelsinkiFinland, will really end the 30-year-old separatist war in the Indonesian province.

    Two commentators, writing separately in Singapore's The Straits Times and Indonesia's The Jakarta Post, believe that despite the dismal record of past peace moves in Aceh, the agreement this time is likely to hold. Both agree that the Dec 26 tsunami, which devastated Aceh, has changed the political landscape.
    The trail of devastation left behind by the killer waves has "put tremendous pressure on both sides - but on GAM in particular - to make compromises inHelsinki", veteran Indonesian journalist Endy M Bayuni writes in The Jakarta Post. "Neither side wants to be accused of obstructing the building of Aceh," he adds.  
    Mr Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at Singapore'Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, writing in The Straits Times, says: "Both sides now see a real need for peace and are eager to bury the hatchet." 
    He also sees economic factors behind the need for a lasting peace.  "Peace will remove the cost of war and divert precious funds to the more pressing need for reconstruction."
    The Aceh rebels, for their part, must grapple with the fact that the province is facing an unusual erosion in its natural wealth, such as natural gas. "The prospect of an independent, but resource poor, Aceh is also contributing to the changing dynamics in the conflict," Mr Yang Razali says. 
    Mr Bayuni notes that the agreement is getting "widespread support, particularly from quarters where it matters most".  Even the Indonesian military (TNI), which has long treated Aceh as its lucrative fiefdom, has given its backing for the peace process to continue. "None of its senior officers have voiced objections to the planned signing."
    He acknowledges that detractors exist on both sides and they will do anything to sabotage the peace process in Aceh. "Those who truly crave for peace in Aceh must make sure that these detractors don't prevail this time around. If we fail this time, it may be a case of three strikes and everybody’s out."

* Peace agreement in Aceh - third time lucky (The Jakarta Post, July 27)

* The Aceh accord: Peace in our time (The Straits Times, July 26)