Aceh reaps the dividends of peace

Eight years after a historic accord brought conflict to an end, residents of Aceh anticipate further improvements in development, living conditions and social welfare.

By Nurdin Hasan for Khabar Southeast Asia in Banda Aceh

August 28, 2013
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The famous Baiturrahman Mosque in Banda Aceh was crowded with hundreds of Acehnese gathered to commemorate the eight-year anniversary of the peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The event was held on August 15, 2013.

  • Imam Syuja’ (in a white shirt), a former Member of Parliament from Aceh, speaks at a roundtable discussion with a number of civil society activists in Banda Aceh on August 15th. The discussion is a reflection of the eight years of peace in Aceh. [Nurdin Hasan/Khabar]

    Imam Syuja’ (in a white shirt), a former Member of Parliament from Aceh, speaks at a roundtable discussion with a number of civil society activists in Banda Aceh on August 15th. The discussion is a reflection of the eight years of peace in Aceh. [Nurdin Hasan/Khabar]

The nearly 30-year armed conflict between GAM and the Indonesian security forces killed 30,000 people, mostly civilians. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in Helsinki, Finland, on August 15, 2005, with Martti Ahtisaari, the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the former President of Finland, as a mediator.

Special autonomy

The commemoration of the agreement, including prayers for continued peace, was led by Aceh's Governor, Zaini Abdullah. No delegates from Jakarta attended the event.

In his speech, Zaini, who was also a former GAM' foreign minister, said that peace in Aceh has brought encouraging results. Acehnese can now work late without worries and fears, he said.

However, he added, more work remains to be done.

"There are potential threats, which could disturb peace in Aceh. Also, not all items in the Helsinki MoU have been implemented into the Acehnese governing system," he added. For Zaini, it is important for the central government to expedite a regulation as part of Aceh's special autonomy.

Speaking to Khabar Southeast Asia, Zaini said that all regulations related to Aceh's special autonomy law should be completed before the end of the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) in 2014.

"It clearly states that all agreements reached in Helsinki's MoU must be completed within two years after the legislation passed the House. However, until now, there are still many regulations that have not been made, especially regarding the authority of the central government in Aceh to manage local resources of oil and gas," he explained.

Zaini is optimistic that if all the contents stated in the MoU are implemented, Aceh will be able to increase development and become a more prosperous society. "In the MoU, we have agreed to remain part of Indonesia. With the momentum of eight years of peace, we hope that the central government commits to carrying out all that it has been agreed to," he said.

Hope for continued peace

Members of civil society and activists also participated in the peace anniversary by holding a roundtable discussion. This is a form of reflection and evaluation of the successes, challenges, and hopes for Aceh to maintain peace and continue its development.

Juanda Djamal of the Acehnese Civil Society Task Force (ACSTF) stated that Helsinki's MoU should be a framework for peace and development in Aceh. "The platform should be an encouragement for politics, economics, and socio-cultural issues," he explained.

A former member of parliament in Aceh involved in the creation of the Law on Governing Aceh, Imam Syuja’, said the MoU seems to be forgotten.

"It is important to not let the war mentality pervade Aceh. We should emphasise the importance of creating a spirit of peace for all people in Aceh," he said in the discussion.

In a statement made during the roundtable discussion, it was mentioned that the Aceh government should build synergies with all components of society.

"Helsinki's spirit can eliminate any possible factions and friction in society. Welfare programmes, political development, and the rule of law should be the main priority of the Government of Aceh," the statement indicated.

Transition not always easy

Although Aceh has accomplished much over the last eight years, not all the problems left over from the years of conflict have proved easy to resolve.

For some who were caught up in the fighting, the path to reintegration in civilian life has been a thorny one.

Anwar Abbas, 47, a former GAM combatant from Bireuen district, went to Banda Aceh for the anniversary of the Helsinki MoU. He said that he has had difficulties finding a job in the eight years following the peace agreement. Anwar hopes the government will help his two children, who dropped out of school, continue their education into college.

"People do not want to give me any food because I am a former GAM combatant," he said.

Meanwhile, human rights groups, such as the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) say that not enough has been done in the past eight years to bring the perpetrators of atrocities to justice, or to provide redress to the victims.

A former Governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, told Khabar that lack of evidence and witnesses makes it hard to resolve such cases. "What we can do is make regulations to prevent the kind of violence from recurring in the future," he said.

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