ASIA/INDONESIA - Aceh draws new hope with peace agreement: it is necessary for all to play a part to write a new page in Sumatra’s history

Thursday, 1 September 2005

Banda Aceh (Fides Service) -The travailed Indonesian region of Aceh in the north of the island of Sumatra looks to the future with new hope after the peace agreement signed between separatist rebels and the government on August 15. Local Jesuit Father Sutri Janta says prospects are encouraging but much work remains to be done in the area among the most seriously damaged in the December 26 tsunami last year.
The priest who coordinates assistance for the homeless and rebuilding projects told Fides that not everyone is happy with the agreement: “Many are pleased and hope it means the end of decades of conflict. But some in the army and politics reject the agreement. It will not be easy to put it into practice and build a society of justice and harmony in Aceh where there are different groups, moderates and extremists. Aceh needs to rediscover its unity”.
“The tsunami also brought a blessing - Fr Sutri told Fides. The tragedy pulled the sides in conflict together making it possibile to reach the agreement signed on 15 August. However efforts to provide aid have slowed down. The homeless are neglected. The government says funds are scarce. Aceh must not be left alone: to restore peace and prosperity the people still need help” he said.
According to the amnisty part of the peace pact the government has already released 1,500 rebels. The agreement signed on 15 August in Helsinki, Finland, was made possible by the decision taken by GAM Gerakan Aceh Merdeka Movement for Free Aceh to renounce its years old claim to independence.
The agreement authorised the formation of regional political parties (in theory anti-costitutional) to take part in local elections in 2006. The government agreed to let GAM change to a political party. In exchange GAM renounced its claims for seccession and request for a popular referendum while the government said it would consider forms of de-centralisation of power.
Although it sparked criticism from extremists on both sides and complaints that too much had been granted, the compromise offers hope for a future of peace in northern Sumatra after a conflict which lasted thirty years.
The pact includes cessation of all hostilites and gradual reduction of the number of army troops and police in Aceh (respectively 14,000 and 9,000). GAM said it will disarm and the government promised an amnisty for rebel soldiers and assignment of land to help their reintegration into civil society.
The peace agreement will be monitored by AMM Aceh Monitoring Mission comprising 250 officials of the five member countries of ASEAN Association of South East Asian Nations and the European Union.
Aceh was among the areas worst hit by the exceptional tsunami in December last year. But the tragedy drew international attention to the zone and gave new impulse to the peace process.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 1/9/2005 righe 34 parole 377)