Accessibility links

Aceh Peace Plan Could Be Last Chance For Ending Conflict

A new report suggests that the two-month-old peace plan in effect in Indonesia's Aceh province might be the last chance the two sides have to end the 26-year-old conflict.

The report by the International Crisis Group says the current peace deal, signed by the Indonesian government and separatist rebels, has a better chance of working than previous attempts to bring peace to Aceh province - because it has international backing.

Scores of monitors are stationed throughout the province to observe and report possible cease-fire violations. They are members of the Swiss group the Henri Dunant Center, which mediated the peace accord.

"It means that for the first time, there is actually a chance that the findings will be accepted by both parties, instead of each side blaming the other for any incidents of violence that happen," said Sidney Jones of the ICG's Jakarta office. The Indonesian government and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement signed the accord in December in an effort to end 26 years of fighting.

Under the agreement, Jakarta will allow Aceh more control over the revenue from the province's oil and natural gas reserves through its special autonomy plan. It will also allow provincial elections. The separatists agreed to lay down their arms and Indonesian troops agreed to withdraw to a defensive position.

Thousands of people are believed to have died in the conflict, which began when the Free Aceh Movement declared the province independent from Indonesia in 1976.

The International Crisis Group report says the cease-fire is simply a starting point for long-term peace in Aceh and other issues need to be resolved. Many rebels from the Free Aceh Movement see the plan as leading to eventual independence for the province - something the central government is adamantly against.

Some senior Indonesian officials have warned the gap in understanding may be enough to make the plan collapse.

Other observers have voiced skepticism about the agreement, saying the Indonesian military is engaging in corrupt activities and making money by perpetuating the bloodshed.

But Ms. Jones says some of the responsibility rests with the Free Aceh Movement, known in Indonesia as GAM. "You could say the same thing for GAM," she said. "That for many of the GAM soldiers, not only is fighting their only livelihood and their only way of extracting money - by guns, but also GAM has been involved in businesses of its own. And I think there are some allegations that GAM and the army have actually been working together in things like the marijuana trade."

Ms. Jones says the profit to be made by fighting is not enough to write off the entire peace agreement. "But it is also the case that if you can bring this to an end, you can get development and donor funds pouring in, in a way that would probably benefit everybody instead of only the small group of people who are benefiting from the war," she said.

The report calls for Jakarta to improve Aceh's provincial government capabilities - so that ordinary people have somewhere to turn besides the rebel movement. It also calls for the international community to find ways to create more incentives for peace, such as development projects.