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Aceh Settlement: Chance of Success?

  • April 9th, 2007
  • Posted by Jessica McKendry

aceh-2.jpg The province of Aceh, in Indonesia, has been proving an exception to the list of troubled places worldwide where crisis is worsening. Jess McKendry writes that a new outside report on the province shows significant progress being made towards peace and stability.


Two organisations have given positive indications on Aceh which, after decades of warfare — between separatist forces and the Dutch, then Indonesian authorities — looks as though it might be able to enter a new-found era of peace.

The insurrection against Indonesian rule was intensified following the economic crisis and collapse of authority in Jakarta in the late 1990s, and the crisis was worsened with the devastating 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.

When all parties came together to make peace, several international agencies, as well as outside governments, provided support, including monitors to watch the disarmament process and the free elections which followed.

Those elections, held last November, were won by the former Acehnese rebel movement, called GAM; campaigning especially in poorer areas over the weakness of grassroots infrastructure, and emphasising its appeal to the Acehnese regional identity.

The International Crisis Group, which works against violent conflict, and has focused on Indonesia’s troubles over recent years, keeps Aceh under watch … and in its latest “Crisis Watch” bulletin, it leaves out the province from its lists of either deriorating, or improving, situations. Perhaps that’s a case of “no news is good news” for the province.


The Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC) is completing work on a generally positive report on Aceh, saying the area has made considerable progress toward sustainable peace through the integration of better government systems, education and reconstruction – since the time of the Tsunami, which left some 500 000 people displaced.

Christine Beeck, a BICC project officer, carrried out field research in Aceh funded by the Norwegian government, to prepare the new report.

She says the peace project worked well because it brought in many agencies or groups of countries, where for example regional languages provided by ASEAN representatives complemented crisis management skills from the European Union – and she would recommend continuing joint assistance.

Some aspects of the settlement still had to be worked out, and much would depend on the new elected authorities.

“It’s in GAM’s hands tro make sure all ex-combattants get what they were promised,” she said in Bonn, Germany on Wednesday (5.4.07).

“With a new law that was passed, there were a few things that were not clear which include the role of the Indonesian military and police in Aceh.

“So GAM now can play a leading role, as it has both the Governor and Vice Governor.

“A lot of progress has been made in Aceh. The security situation has been improved dramatically over the last year. For example, with big weddings, you could not have one during the conflict because gatherings of five or more people werere suspicious and the police or military would intrevene. Now life on the streets is better after darkness, at 5:30 pm, with the markets opening again…

“Whether it will last now depends on whether ex-combattants get what they were promised; if they are able to get jobs, and they don’t have to go back to their old conflict ways of getting money – and also how the new government really changes the situation.”

The BICC is not able to paint a totally encouraging picture for Aceh, because of its backlog of troubles, Ms Beeck pointing out, as an example of distrust, that an amnesty on weapons did not, by a long way, produce all of the arms believed to be kept in the province.
“In Aceh there were 30 years of armed conflict so you can’t really expect them to just shift easily towards peace … This is really going to take some time …

“The needs of tsunami displaced people and the former combatants, and people affected by the former conflict, are very similar; lots of poeople are still living in tents and these temporary shelters, and they’re not happy.

“They are getting very frustrated,” she said.

The Bonn International Centre for Conversion works on the conversion of military apparatus to peaceful use; conducting field research, providing consultancies and offering training for projects that will help keep the peace.

Its goal is “global security” , which it says can be achieved through reducing poverty, improving healthcare and sponsoring recognised standards of good governance.


International Crisis Group –

Bonn International Centre for Conversion –

Picture: Banda Aceh, provincial capital, in the aftermath of the tsunami.