Aceh deal to end 26 years of conflict


Separatist rebels in Aceh and the Indonesian government have reached agreement on a peace deal to be signed next month that will effectively end one of South-east Asia’s longest-running conflicts.

The Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, which has been mediating talks between both sides over the last two years, announced that the pact would be signed on Dec 9 in Geneva, where the outfit is based.

It said in a statement that both sides ‘are very much committed to reach an agreement’ and added that ‘a few issues need to be resolved’.

It did not specify what these were but outlined measures that would be taken to bring peace to a region where 26 years of fighting have killed at least 10,000 people.

The proposed peace plan includes setting up a joint 150-member committee to monitor security, investigate violations and impose sanctions to restore calm when violations occur.

It also offers more autonomy for the province’s four million inhabitants and elections for a provincial legislature and administration.

A 150-member team of international monitors, including former military officers from Europe and Asia, would also oversee the arrangement.

Jakarta appears keen to ink the deal, given concerns that the province could break away if nothing is done to contain the rebels.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said several countries ‘which have a similar ideology had expressed a willingness to support reconstruction and development once peace returns to Aceh’.

But hawkish elements in the armed forces appeared to be somewhat lukewarm to any agreement with the rebels.

A senior military intelligence official told The Straits Times: ‘Which sovereign country deals on equal footing with separatists? We have shown them too much respect. But if this means keeping Aceh within Indonesia’s fold, we are prepared to let it work. There is no guarantee that the rebels will do the same.’

Even as Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) inched towards peace, the military was maintaining pressure on about 200 rebels besieged in a village in North Aceh for more than two weeks now.

GAM spokesman Sofyan Daud maintained that the rebels did not reject talks with Jakarta but blamed the military for starting the confrontation.

Analysts said the incident highlighted once again the difficulties of implementing a peace plan or even a ceasefire agreement in the area.

The rebels, like the Indonesian military, were not entirely united in their approach to any peace plan.

Diplomatic sources said the GAM faction in Geneva might be more receptive to a deal. But they had difficulty convincing more hardline elements in Aceh to accept it.

Some of these rebels are uneasy about arrangements under which they would be required to store their weapons, and at the possible role of the often-criticised police paramilitary force in patrolling ceasefire areas.

A senior diplomat noted: ‘It will be a peace deal fraught with risks.

‘Problems might just resurface given the fractious nature of GAM and that the military high command might not necessarily be in control of low-level ground commanders involved in tit-for-tat retaliatory killings. That is why peace is so elusive in Aceh.’

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