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Indonesia - Aceh Peace Pact Faltering - 2003-04-17

Indonesia’s northern province of Aceh has enjoyed four of its most peaceful months in recent years with the launch of a special peace pact. That pact was brokered by a Swiss organization in December.

In the past two weeks however, the peace plan has faltered – with threats of violence made against the international observers, forcing them to withdraw to the capital and the Indonesian government threatening to launch a new military offensive. Now Indonesia’s military chief says his government is nearing an agreement with leaders of Aceh’s separatist movment to hold a meeting on their faltering peace pact. Patricia Nunan was recently in Aceh. She sent us this report just before the Indonesian military Chief’s comments on possible upcoming talks.

It’s a sweltering afternoon in the district of Simpang Keramat in East Aceh -- but hundreds have turned out for the ceremony to declare the district an official “peace zone.”

Representatives from both the separatist “Free Aceh Movement” and the Indonesian government have agreed not to carry weapons in the “peace zone” -- or do anything that might threaten the historic peace accord signed by the the two groups in December.

David Gorman is with the Henri Dunant Center in Aceh – the Swiss Group that brokered the peace plan.

“It is easy to destroy peace. It is difficult to build peace. But we know that the people of Simpang Keramat want to build peace.”

Those gathered listened politely to his speech. But after the ceremony, many in the crowd let their true feelings show.

The man these people want to see is a local hero -- Commander Amri bin Al-Wahab -- from the Free Aceh Movement.

To the rebels and their supporters – the peace plan means just one thing:

“Aceh – independent!”

But now it appears, the peace plan may falter.

The government and the rebels have profoundly different interpretations of the ultimate goal of the peace accord.

The government says the increased control Aceh will have over the revenues from its oil and natural gas through a “special autonomy” plan is enough – and the Free Aceh Movement should drop its independence campaign.

But rebel spokesman Nashiruddin points out that the accord calls for all Achenese to participate in the peace process – and that means an independence referendum is still an option.

“And after that, we conduct what we call ‘all inclusive dialogue.’ In that dialogue, we solve the Aceh problem with the involvement of the people of Aceh in a democratic way. So it’s up to the people what they want.”

Senior Indonesian military officers are now threatening to launch a new offensive against the rebels. General Safzen Noerdin explains the government’s position.

“The rebels must be committed to the fact that this agreement is not for independence. They must be committed to accepting the autonomy law. That is what’s been stipulated in the peace deal.”

The make-or-break point in the peace process may come soon – with an emergency meeting planned between the two sides to get the peace process back on track. David Gorman remains hopeful.

“The point of this agreement like many is that it’s a process. It starts first of all with security and trying to reduce security incidents that are occuring. So that then we can create a situation in which both sides feel more comfortable and more able to solve it peacefully. That’s the point that we are trying to aim for at this stage.”

Many observers agree – this peace plan is the best chance Aceh has had in years to end its bloody conflict.