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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 18:23, August 15, 2005
News Analysis: Amid optimism, hurdles still emerge for Aceh peace
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Although optimism abounds right after the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed their third peace agreement on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, political, economic and social problems still loom large in the archipelago's resource-rich Aceh Province,

There are strong reasons for believing that the Helsinki peace deal will eventually work.

First and foremost, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla have a strong mandate from the people to materialize the peace deal, as they were directly elected by the people.

Meanwhile, unlike earlier agreements, the Helsinki peace deal has received strong backing from various quarters, including the National Police, the Indonesian Military (TNI), and top political parties.

The Acehnese people themselves are also tired of three decades of war that has claimed thousands of lives. This can contribute to the success of the deal too.

In addition, the government and the GAM have come under strong international pressure to effect the peace deal so that a conducive climate can be created for the reconstruction and rebuilding of Aceh, much of which will be financed from abroad.

The above factors provide a good momentum for lasting peace in Aceh. It is now up to the Indonesian government and the GAM to show that they are really committed to peace.

With the foundations for a lasting peace having been laid, both the GAM and the Indonesian government still have a lot of work to do.

Both parties must now address the technicalities surrounding the demand by the GAM that it be allowed to establish a local political party. Because Indonesian electoral law does not permit local political parties, the existing legislation will have to be amended.

Besides laying the groundwork for the establishment of a local political party, the Indonesian government also needs to prepare a plan for the granting of amnesties to convicted GAM members.

There is already a plan to provide GAM members with houses and between two and three hectares of land each, but how this will be implemented remains to be seen. The scheme will cost the central government dearly.

Inevitably, the provision of houses and plot of lands for GAM members is likely to spark social envy as many Acehnese are still suffering hardship in the aftermath of tsunami disaster. This issue also needs to be seriously addressed by the government.

In order to handle the looming social problems in Aceh, a massive public information campaign will be needed in order to convince the Acehnese to accept the amnesty program. The government must make people aware that compensation for GAM members is the price that must be paid in order to ensure lasting peace in Aceh.

Like it or not, the government must take measures, including providing financial incentives, to "compensate" the TNI for losing "a lucrative battleground". There are allegations that war-related "business" activities have been rampant during the military operation in the province.

Meanwhile, effective government policies will be needed to prevent irresponsible parties from sabotaging the peace deal. Some quarters have taken advantage of the prolonged conflict in Aceh, including making money from the lucrative arms and drug trades, and they will do whatever they can do perpetuate the conflict in the province for their own gain.

Additionally, the huge amount of money earmarked for Aceh's reconstruction has also created problems as many parties want to get their hands on at least part of the "tsunami cake". The international community will not tolerate any misuse of the donations destined for the tsunami victims.

The influence of ultranationalist politicians must not be underestimated either. They can easily provoke nationalist sentiments among the non-Acehnese. Many people in Java support a military solution to the problems in Aceh. From time to time, this factor will have the potential to disrupt the peace process.

Keeping the peace deal on rail is now the toughest challenge facing the government as well as the GAM leaders.

Source: Xinhua

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