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Revised Aceh Autonomy Law Under Fire

Indonesia's parliament has passed a bill to extend political autonomy for Aceh, but human-rights activists and former Achenese rebels say the law does not satisfy a 2005 peace agreement. The conflict has revived tensions between Jakarta and Aceh's separatist movement.

The bill expands Aceh's control over its natural oil and gas resources, allows former rebels to form their own political party, and confirms autonomy over local affairs.

But Acehnese leaders say the bill was weakened as it made its way through the legislature. They say the law erodes local control over international aid, and is too vague about the role of the Indonesian military. A provision that would create human-rights tribunals has also been cut back.

Leaders of the Free Aceh Movement say they will file a formal complaint with international monitors of the peace process about the bill.

Aceh Recovery Forum Director Ahmad Humam Hamid says failure to agree on the law threatens to hamstring progress in rebuilding Aceh.

"I think first of all both the government of Indonesia and the movement should say that they're okay with the law. One of the basic principles is that both the government and the movement are going to see the new law governing Aceh," he said.

Aceh's 29-year war for independence from Indonesia, which killed an estimated 15,000 people, stalled soon after the Indian Ocean tsunami decimated the region in December 2004. More than 130,000 Aceh residents died and 500,000 were left homeless in the disaster.

Conflict over the law could further delay elections originally scheduled for April this year.

Diplomats and activists involved in monitoring the peace process say the Indonesian House of Representatives should not dilute Aceh's powers.

Hamid says he expects a compromise on the law, but he is concerned that growing distrust in the troubled province will take a long time to resolve.

"I think the basic requirements are there, but now the idea is how are we going to show the Acehnese, how we are going to demonstrate to the Acehnese, that this law is workable, this law is recommendable, and this law will give a lot of good things for the Acehnese and for the state of Indonesia," added Hamid.

In contrast to the violent past, leaders of the Free Aceh Movement say they will use legal means to challenge the legislation.