Peace for Aceh —and West Papua?

The Indonesian government and the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a peace deal in Finland Aug. 15 aimed at ending the local war which has claimed 15,000 lives in over 29 years. “This is the beginning of a new era for Aceh,” said former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who mediated the talks. “Much hard work lies ahead.” Efforts to end the conflict quickened after the tsunami in December, which devastated much of Aceh. In the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, big screens were set up in the main mosque so that people could witness the signing in Helsinki.

Under the accord, all hostilities are to cease, and GAM is to disarm; the government is to withdraw all non-local military and police; GAM fighters, including those in prison, are to be amnestied; pro-government militias will also be disarmed; a new law will be established by March 2006 under which Aceh will be self-governing in most matters except foreign policy and national defense; elections for a local administration will be held in April 2006, and for a local legislature in 209; a truth and reconciliation commission is to be established, and a monitoring mission set up by the EU and ASEAN.

Malik Mahmud, the head of the GAM delegation in Helsinki, said: “This peace process has required a leap of faith from Gam. It is a leap of faith we have taken to give the people of Aceh the opportunity to build a brighter future.” But he added: “It would be naive not to recognise there are many challenges. We know the real hard work remains ahead of us.” Previous peace deals have broken down and there is still deep mistrust between the two sides.

The accord also states that Aceh will have the right to use regional symbols including a flag, a crest and a hymn. More contentious will be those areas concerned with resource exploitation. The accord states that Aceh will have the right to raise funds with external loans, set interest rates and taxes, conduct trade and business and seek foreign direct investment. Aceh is entitled to retain 70% of the revenues from all its hydrocarbon deposits and other natural resources.(BBC, Xinhua, Aug. 15)

But ecological concerns as well as revenue allocation have driven local opposition to Exxon’s oil operations in Aceh, and it remains to be seen if the company will be able to come to an accomidaiton with the new local government.

It also remains to be seen if the Aceh peace plan will serve as a model for other restive areas in Indonesia. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s president, writes in the International Herald Tribune Aug. 16:

We are holding GAM to its pledge to drop its demands for independence in exchange for its full participation in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the province. That will begin with local elections for district chiefs and mayors in April 2006. In the end, GAM will no longer exist and its members will no longer be armed. Former GAM members will have guaranteed rights in an autonomous Aceh within a united Indonesia and bound by our national constitution. It will be a great feat of political reconstruction, and its success will depend on strong leadership on both sides to keep the process on track…

Peace in Aceh should be seen in the context of our continuing efforts to improve Indonesian unity. One of our next tasks must be finding a permanent solution to our problems in Papua, at the opposite end of the archipelago. The Aceh agreement required an integrated approach and was only reached after years of applying military force. Papua is very different. A political solution, based on special autonomy, is much more attainable, hopefully before next year’s Indonesian independence celebrations.

A report on the website of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) July 19 notes that US Congressman for the territory of American Samoa, Eni Faleomavaega, is lobbying the US State Department to support the West Papuan people’s right to self-determination, and has introduced a bill condemning the Indonesian government’s repressive actions in the province. This is a natural issue for Faleomavaega–his own American Samoa is also an “unrepresented nation,” and he is technically a “non-voting delegate” to the House of Representatives.

See our last posts on Aceh, West Papua and Indonesia.