Separatism may still sink Aceh peace pact

The rebels insist the issue of independence has not been resolved and want the province’s 2004 election to be turned into a referendum’.

The peace deal between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) could go into a tailspin as the rebels still eye independence.

They want the 2004 election to be turned into what observers described as a ‘referendum’ to decide whether Aceh should stay or break away from Jakarta.

GAM negotiator Teuku Kamaruzzama said that the idea of an election had been left open for further negotiation and that last Monday’s peace agreement centred on ending hostilities on the ground, not resolving political differences. For the rebels, negotiations with the Indonesian government still centres on an independent state for Aceh – an aim that

Jakarta and its hawkish military oppose.

The peace accord, the most promising breakthrough so far in the negotiations, does not clearly spell out such differences. Indeed, as a starting point, it mentions special autonomy for the strife-torn province that implies GAM’s acceptance that Aceh remain as part of Indonesia.

It mentions that Jakarta and GAM will work towards ending their hostilities to pave the way for an ‘all-inclusive dialogue’. This dialogue, it adds, will comprise a cross-section of Acehnese society and will eventually lead to ‘the election of a democratic government in Aceh, Indonesia’.

Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh reinforced Jakarta’s concerns by saying that polls in the region would be part of the national election process in which ‘GAM can take part as a political party’.

The separatists, however, are seeing things differently. Underscoring continued differences with Jakarta on the matter, Mr Kamaruzzama referred to the upcoming election as where ‘the aspirations of the Acehnese will be accommodated under a political process’.

‘This deal is only the start of bringing two extreme poles of aspirations together; we must let this process go through its phases,’ The Jakarta Post quoted him as saying.

Analysts said that both parties were reluctant to address this ‘grey area’ given immediate concerns to end hostilities on the ground.

Failing to do so presents problems in the long run, with some GAM factions spoiling for a fight with the Indonesian armed forces.

Political will displayed by Jakarta and some GAM elements flies in the face of local dynamics in Aceh.

GAM is highly fragmented, with its district-based chapters usually operating as autonomous entities. To expect all to comply with a ceasefire is probably unrealistic.

The military has never really been supportive of the civilian government’s approach of resolving matters through dialogue. Force is its only option. Even if the peace plan is implemented, there is no guarantee lower level commanders will follow it, given that dynamics on the ground sometimes take on a life of their own.

A one-star army general told The Straits Times: ‘Do you think GAM is just going to abandon their objective of independence? As long as they don’t, no peace agreement is ever going to work.’

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