Tue, 16 Aug 2005

From: AFP

Peace in Aceh

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It took three presidents and required the peacemaking skills of a vice president to put an end to three decades of bloodshed in Aceh when the government of Indonesia and separatist rebels in the province inked a truce.

The accord appears to have satisfied both parties, compared to previous agreements which were proven to be short-lived, as it requires the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to renounce its long-held demand for full independence in exchange for political and economic privileges for the province.

Indonesian Minister of Justice and Human Rights Hamid Awaluddin signed the agreement with Malik Mahmud, the self-styled prime minister of the exiled GAM leadership in Sweden, in the Finnish capital Helsinki, after seven months of painstaking negotiations initiated by Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Military and civilian officials from the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are to monitor the implementation of the deal, which includes an amnesty for GAM political prisoners, creation of political parties in the province, withdrawal of non-local security forces and the formation of a human rights court and a truth and reconciliation commission.

"We've come to this day after years of military violence against the people of Aceh. This is the beginning of the process of justice for the Aceh people," Mahmud said in his speech.

Mahmud, who spoke in English, also raised concerns about the past record of the Indonesia Military (TNI) as well as the government's commitment to implementing the peace agreement.

Both parties had signed peace accords under former presidents Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000 and Megawati Soekarnoputri in 2002.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jusuf Kalla and House of Representatives Speaker Agung Laksono witnessed the televised accord signing through a big screen set up at the Merdeka Palace in Central Jakarta.

"Indonesians, including my brothers in Aceh, let us appreciate the significant event as something that we should be proud of," Susilo said after the signing.

Wearing a long-sleeved batik shirt, the President was seen smiling several times but also paid full attention when Hamid and Mahmud inked the agreement.

Susilo shook his head and clasped his hands tightly when the GAM leader presented his speech.

Nobody in the palace clapped for Mahmud, in contrast to the big applause given to Hamid when he finished his acceptance speech.

In a prepared speech, Hamid expected both sides to look forward to develop a better Aceh.

A video conference linkup to allow the President to speak to the delegates in Helsinki, including the GAM leadership, failed due to technical problems.

"Could they hear me?" the President asked Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo Adi Sucipto and Hamid, who were told to explain the agreement to the Indonesian people.

Susilo also thanked former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari and his Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), the government of Finland, the European Union and ASEAN and "our brothers and sisters who were previously grouped under GAM" for their efforts and commitment to permanently end the conflict in Aceh.

"All parties need to work hard and sincerely in a bid to build a better, more peaceful, fairer and more democratic condition in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam," he said.

Both sides had been cautiously optimistic that the agreement would open the way for lasting peace, a hope lent renewed urgency after the Dec. 26 tsunami which hit Aceh especially hard, killing at least 130,000 people.

Pursuant to the peace deal, foreign monitors under the Aceh Monitoring Mission will deploy 80 of its 200 personnel to plan and prepare for the start of the monitoring task between Aug. 15 and Sept. 14. During their initial presence, the unarmed foreign monitors will make local contacts and familiarize themselves with conditions in Aceh before their mission swings into a full gear on Sept. 15.

Monitors will not take on a facilitation or negotiation role. They will conduct their task by communicating with both parties and by carrying out inspections and investigations as required.