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Indonesia's Aceh Hopes Peace Will Aid Reconstruction Effort


People living in Indonesia's tsunami devastated Aceh province are hoping the peace deal brokered last month between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government will significantly speed up the reconstruction efforts there.

Nearly nine months after the Indian Ocean tsunami swept across Aceh, destroying much of the infrastructure and killing more than 160,000 people, signs of renewal are everywhere.

With international donors pouring millions of dollars into the province, houses are being built, roads repaired, and hopes are high the reconstruction efforts will speed up now that the Free Aceh Movement, or G.A.M., and the Indonesian government have signed a peace deal.

The well-known, respected Acehnese political activist, Nazar, was twice jailed for treason. Released from jail last month, Nazar says now that G.A.M. has begun to hand in their weapons and the peace process is well under way, all sides must participate in Aceh's rebuilding. "I think the prospect of reconstruction of Aceh in the future has to be handled by all sides in Aceh … and I think Aceh Free Movement or G.A.M. also has to be involved in this process of reconstruction," said Nazar. "We hope the future of Aceh can rebuild based on Acehnese aspiration, not based on Jakarta political interest," he said.

G.A.M. and the Indonesian government signed a peace deal last month with both sides pledging to help rebuild Aceh. After G.A.M. dropped its independence demand, Jakarta agreed to a wide-ranging autonomy for the region, political participation for G.A.M., and a large share of the profits from the oil and gas rich province to remain in Aceh.

Saifuddin Bantasyam from the non-governmental Aceh Recovery Forum says hopes are high the peace deal, known as the M.O.U., will speed up Aceh's reconstruction efforts. "I think it will do very, very much because we never imagined we can do development activities in conflict," said Bantasyam. "What I'm saying is no development activities without peace and no peace without development … this M.O.U. I think will ideally give very, very much to people in Aceh," he said.

And for the thousands of Acehnese languishing in tent cities, this is good news.

Mohammad Yusuf lost several family members, his home, and all his possessions in the tsunami and says living in the tents is unbearable. "We are forced to live here, that's why we live here … when it's hot it doesn't matter, maybe we can use the fan, we can get out of here, there is the tree, but when it rains, that's the problem, the water comes inside," said Yusuf.

But with the peace process in full swing, many Acehnese are optimistic those who need homes will be moving into them soon.

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