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Peace deal raises doubts, hopes in Aceh BANDA ACEH - People in Aceh reacted cautiously on Monday to a deal aimed at ending 30 years of civil war in the Indonesian province that was more devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami than any other place.

Unlike a peace agreement brokered in late 2002 that had Acehnese crowding newspaper stalls eager to read details, people were going about their normal business in the early morning hours, on a day when children in crisp white and red uniforms were returning to school after mid-year holidays. The 2002 deal, reached in Switzerland, fell apart in 2003 with the government and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels blaming one another. Some feared the latest agreement, put together by negotiators in Finland, would follow that pattern.

"I am not enthusiastic at all with this agreement. I have been very pessimistic with this peace project. All this is only promises just like the promises from previous negotiations," newspaper agent Joni Sukandar told Reuters in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital 1,700 km (1,060 miles) northwest of Jakarta. "We are not pro-anyone. We are not pro-GAM or pro-RI (Republic of Indonesia). We are only pro-peace, but whenever there is negotiation there is always a clash. They talk up there but they fight down here."

Trouble with parliament?

Early on in the talks GAM abandoned its demand for independence, a major concession, and in the fifth session ending on Sunday, the government moved to accommodate GAM's request for political participation in Aceh. Details remain fuzzy on that and some other points ahead of a scheduled signing in Helsinki on Aug. 15, but on Sunday night Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla indicated GAM could move now to set up an Aceh-based national party in line with existing laws, and a purely local party for GAM could come later.

The latter would require approval by parliament, where the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Kalla have a majority coalition, albeit a shaky one not prone to easily meeting every government request. Permadi, a parliament member for the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), told Reuters he wanted to see details of the full agreement, adding: "However, we have to know that GAM always violates their promises ... We have to be cautious, and very, very cautious."

In Peukan Bada district on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, housewife Nasriyah Sufaizin told Reuters she was very happy to hear a deal had been agreed that could bring peace, but not enthused about GAM possibly being allowed to set up a party. "I do not agree, because later ordinary people will be pulled into that party, and this may create another problem." "When there's GAM there's violence. When there's GAM there's conflict," she said after bringing her daughter to school.

How many people in Aceh disagree with her and support GAM is hard to gauge, since it has not been allowed to participate in Aceh politics and the government has never held a referendum on independence. That could have set a dangerous precedent for Jakarta as it struggles to hold together the sprawling Indonesian archipelago and the scores of ethnic groups among its 220 million people.

Aside from the political issue, the agreement initialled in Helsinki carries provisions for disarming the guerrillas, withdrawing Indonesian troops, monitoring a ceasefire and re-integrating the rebels socially. Aceh, a resource-rich, devoutly Muslim province of 4 million people, has a long history of revolt against Jakarta and Dutch colonial rule, with one issue in the GAM rebellion being natural gas resources and how much revenue goes to the province.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 18 July 2005 18:16 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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