Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

After Big Step Toward Aceh Peace, Still Many Hurdles to Overcome

by Evelyn Rusli, International Herald Tribune, July 19

Jakarta. The peace accord between the Indonesian government and Aceh separatists will be difficult to implement, given a 30-year relationship between the two sides that has been fraught with violence, mistrust and broken promises, analysts said Monday.

"All hostilities have to end with the signing," the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, who has been the chief negotiator, said Sunday, when the agreement was reached. "Unfortunately, they're still going on."

In Aceh, sporadic fighting continued around the huge reconstruction effort organized by the government and international aid groups to reshape the province after the tsunami on Dec. 26.

Though government officials and separatists expressed optimism Monday that the peace deal would succeed, experts were not so optimistic. They warned that the deep-rooted mistrust between security forces and rebels in Aceh would probably hinder the disarmament and demilitarization called for in the agreement. Nationalist fervor among lawmakers who fear that Aceh might still secede from Indonesia could make it difficult for the treaty to be passed by Parliament.

The agreement may be a breakthrough, but it will take a long time to put into action, said Sidney Jones, a regional director of the International Crisis Group and an expert on conflicts in Indonesia. "I think that they seemed to have pulled off the impossible, but the proof of the pudding is in the implementation," she said.

During the conflict, about 15,000 people, including many civilians, have been killed. Their villages have been razed and their palm oil plantations ruined. The even greater loss of life and property in the tsunami helped show both sides the futility of continued fighting.

The rebels, whose organization is known as the Free Aceh Movement, have suffered significant military defeats in the past 18 months. Their precarious position made them more willing to negotiate and to give up their long-held demand of independence. But despite these new circumstances, the rebels remain suspicious of the Indonesian Army. It is unlikely that they will disarm if the Indonesian military does not show a sincere effort in pulling back from its overwhelming presence, several experts said.

Some also questioned whether the 350 monitors from the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would be up to the task of overseeing the disarmament. "There is a possibility the rebels will never fully trust the military, because they believe they are responsible for human rights violations," said Ratna Sarumpaet, a human rights advocate. "And the military has been conditioned to see the rebels as the enemy."

Aceh's long track record of broken peace deals also looms over this latest truce. Previous peace deals quickly disintegrated into violence.

There are difficulties not only on the ground, but also in the Indonesian Parliament. One sticking point in the accord's draft is a plan that would allow disarmed rebels to form a local political party. Vice President Yusuf Kalla told reporters Sunday that "the government will try as hard as it can to create the political and legal situation in support of that."

"The issue right now is whether or not Indonesia's politicians will see this agreement as inconsistent with Indonesian law and whether they think it could lead to independence," said Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, a chief negotiator for Indonesia during earlier peace talks.

Indonesian law recognizes only national political parties that are based in Jakarta and that have offices in at least half of the country's provinces. The peace agreement could remove a threat to Indonesia's territorial integrity, but some government officials are concerned that concessions to the Aceh rebels could inspire other separatist groups to call for similar demands.


Posted July 18, 2005