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"A peace plan for Aceh Indonesia"
Comment by Sidney Jones in the International Herald Tribune


Hopes for peace in Indonesia's Aceh Province hang by a thread. Armed clashes between separatists and the Indonesian army have resumed. Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security, recently gave the Free Aceh Movement a two-week ultimatum to accept Indonesian sovereignty or face the full force of the military. The Indonesian government and much of the public are exasperated with the Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian initials as GAM. The rebels appear to have used the reduction in violence that followed the signing of ceasefire agreement in December to significantly increase their fighting strength. They are no closer to accepting autonomy, as an alternative to independence, than they were 27 years ago. But both sides are responsible for the breakdown. Neither has adequately acknowledged these five fundamental facts about the conflict: The government won't work out an amicable coexistence with armed insurgents. In the end, any solution to the conflict has to involve GAM's eventual abandonment of armed struggle. GAM won't give up its aim of independence. It is not realistic to expect an independence movement to abandon long-held aims, when as an organization, it has almost nothing to gain by doing so. It might give up armed struggle, if it thought it could compete fairly in a democratic system on a pro-independence platform. But the Indonesian government is not willing to accept any local political parties in Aceh, let alone one with such a platform. Indonesia won't collapse. Many GAM leaders appear to believe that the burden of Indonesia's economic and political problems will lead to its collapse, and all they need to do is wait. They are wrong. Support for independence in Aceh is strong. The Indonesian government cannot make that sentiment go away simply by declaring it illegal or sending in more troops. The autonomy granted to Aceh in 2001 is flawed. For autonomy to succeed, it has to be worked out with the people affected and administered by a responsive and accountable government. Neither has been the case in Aceh. A lack of understanding of these basic facts has plagued efforts to find a solution to the conflict. But Yudhoyono suggested that Jakarta would also focus on three areas: humanitarian work, law enforcement and governance. There could be progress here if humanitarian work means not just relief supplies but a systemic improvement in living standards, if law enforcement means not just arrests but a credible justice system, and if governance means rooting out corruption and using Aceh's revenue for the public good rather than for personal gain. Doing all of the above requires a reasonably secure environment. But under current circumstances, military operations are likely to become just another source of anger, resentment, and rebellion.

Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune All Rights Reserved



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