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Aceh celebrates year of peace BANDA ACEH - Tens of thousands of Acehnese gathered on Tuesday around the provincial capital's black-domed mosque to mark the anniversary of a landmark truce and to urge Indonesia's government not to water down the pact. At the governor's mansion, officials involved in the peace deal congregated in a hall to mark the Helsinki-signed pact, aimed at ending a 30-year war in which 15,000 people died.

"Very few of us who were involved in the process could have imagined things could go so smoothly," said former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, the chief mediator of the talks. "There are small details here and there which need to be discussed but I have also been impressed that there is a continuous possibility for dialogue," added Ahtisaari, dressed along with other officials in traditional Acehnese dress with elaborate gold embroidery.

The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government signed the pact on August 15, 2005, after the separatist group agreed to give up its fight for an independent state in return for greater power over the resource-rich province's affairs. Malik Mahmud, the former "prime minister" in exile of GAM, said the peace must be protected. "The 30-year conflict has become a historical episode that we have passed. Hopefully this agreement in Aceh will head for a bright and shining future," said the Swedish-based Mahmud.

The ceremony was also attended by Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the architect of Aceh's post-tsunami peace process, who urged the Aceh people to trust Jakarta.

Acehnese numbering tens of thousands also gathered to mark the day and held a rally around the mosque. Truck driver Rasyidin drove 11 hours with 35 of his neighbours from a northern Aceh village to join the rally. "If I do not like the peace I have enjoyed in the past year, I would not be here," the 40-year old said.

"I hope it stays that way, but we do not know what the future has for us," he added, standing beside his yellow truck. Acehnese from across the province, many from GAM stronghold areas, had poured into Banda Aceh in the last two days. Last month, Indonesia's parliament passed a bill that paved the way for direct elections of executives in the Aceh province on Sumatra island's northern tip.

GAM officials have welcomed the new law but said that some of its provisions must be amended because they were not in line with the peace agreement. Jakarta argues the bill has made Aceh the envy of other provinces due to its new powers. Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said giving Aceh extra powers could trigger lawsuits from those who think the province already has a good deal.

But the Aceh-born Djalil has also said that amendments to the law were possible "two years down the road" after implementation. The international mission monitoring implementation of the deal has said the new laws are broadly in line with the pact. Pieter Feith, head of the Aceh Monitoring Mission, said in a statement his group would extend its stay beyond a September 15 deadline until December elections, although with a heavily reduced force of 35 monitors.

The deal which followed months of talks between GAM and Jakarta, was spurred by the Indian Ocean tsunami that left around 170,000 people killed or missing in Aceh.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 16 August 2006 08:00 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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