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Indonesian Government to Miss Deadline on Law Crucial to Aceh Peace


The Indonesian government will fail to meet a Friday deadline to pass a crucial law on the governing of Aceh province, the first real glitch in the seven-month-old peace agreement between Indonesia and the separatist Free Aceh Movement. A new report says several anticipated problems with the long-sought deal are now beginning to emerge.

Indonesia's failure to pass the Aceh law by the March 31 deadline is a necessary delay, officials say.

The law will provide details of the governing of the province, which was wracked by a violent separatist movement for three decades.

Ferry Mursyidan Baldan, chairman of the special parliamentary committee drafting the law, says more time is needed to properly debate the wide-ranging measure.

"The Aceh law will finish in a time as soon as possible," he said. "We have a lot of issues in that law."

The Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a peace agreement last August. As part of the deal, the government promised to enact a new law granting the province partial self-rule.

A report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, issued Wednesday, says the first part of the peace agreement, including a handover of rebel arms and withdrawal of government troops, went off smoothly. But now, the report says, problems are beginning to show as the political aspects of the agreement are debated.

The report says the two sides disagree over the extent of self-government, and funding for the reintegration and employment of former GAM fighters. One burning issue is the question of who can run in local Aceh elections.

GAM says independent candidates must be eligible, but the government draft omits any mention of this, implying that only candidates of political parties or coalitions, as is the general rule in Indonesia, will be allowed to run.

Irawandi Yusuf is a GAM spokesman and liaison officer with the Aceh Monitoring Mission, the international body overseeing the peace process. He argues that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the two sides signed indicates that any Acehnese is eligible for office.

"Although there is nothing in the MOU about the independent candidate, but if you read that article carefully you will see no matter what name you give it, all Acehnese people have the right to run for elected position," he said. "And that means you don't have to have a party as your vehicle, you can run as independent, or whatever the name you like to give it."

Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group says she does not think the peace deal is under threat.

"I think that none of these problems were unanticipated," said Jones. "They mean that everybody has got to work extra hard to make sure you get over these hurdles and can keep the peace on track, but I don't believe the peace is in jeopardy. "

Irawandi says the law must be passed quickly, so that local elections can be held before the Monitoring Mission looses its mandate on June 15, but the delay could postpone elections until July or August.

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