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Aid to Indonesian Province Discussed by International Aid Donors - 2002-12-03

Two-dozen nations and international organizations are in Tokyo to discuss aid to the strife-torn Indonesian province of Aceh. The meeting comes less than one week ahead of the expected signing of a peace pact between Acehnese rebels and the Indonesian government.

Indonesia is the main focus at the gathering of international aid donors in Tokyo, sponsored by the World Bank, Japan, the United States and the European Union. The big question is how best to support Indonesia as it seeks peace with its restive province of Aceh.

Delegates say they are mulling over how to finance reconstruction and international monitoring once the Indonesian government and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement sign a peace agreement.

Sidney Jones is a Jakarta-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization. She says one of the first tasks of donor nations is to help bolster Aceh's legal system. "There needs to be a real focus on the justice sector. There is the feeling that justice has not been done in Aceh for the last 20 years or more," she says. "That has fueled the resentment of the Acehnese against the central government."

Violence between government and rebel forces in Aceh has killed more than 10,000 people since 1976, when rebels first declared independence. Officials say the world needs to see that peace has taken root before donor funds flow to the province. Ms. Jones of the International Crisis Group says that creating jobs and repairing Aceh's social infrastructure will then be the top priorities for donors. "The issue of how funds are managed is critical because most Acehnese see the current autonomous government as a hotbed of corruption," says Ms. Jones. "The feeling is that unless funds are strictly controlled, they will go the way of all other grants and loans: straight into the pockets of local officials."

Aceh rebels and government representatives are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday and international mediators say an accord to end their conflict will be signed Monday.

A draft of the deal calls on the rebels to disarm and on Indonesian forces to reduce their presence in the area. Aid donors say they will watch the process closely to see how they can best assist with strengthening Aceh's economy and political system.