Monday, March 23, 2009

Indonesia: Deep Distrust in Aceh as Elections Approach

"Letters from Aceh" is a collection of letters and photographs (by Scott Graham and Piotr Jakubowski) exchanged between students from the tsunami-devastated Aceh province, and children from international destinations.
It includes forewords written by the Indonesian President, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the headmaster of the Jakarkta International School in Indonesia, Dr Niall C. W. Nelson and the Director for The Rehabiltation and Construction Agency for Aceh and Nias, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto.


Jakarta/Brussels, 23 March 2009: Tensions in Aceh are high leading up to the 9 April elections and are likely to continue thereafter unless the underlying cause – growing distrust between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian military (TNI) – is addressed.

Indonesia: Deep Distrust in Aceh as Elections Approach,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, reports that hostility between the TNI and the GAM is at its highest point since the peace deal in 2005, although there is little danger that the low-level pre-election violence will escalate.

“Many in the TNI are convinced that GAM is still committed to independence, and that a big victory for Partai Aceh, GAM’s political party, could threaten the unity of the republic”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group’s Senior Adviser to the Asia Program. “Many in GAM see the military as determined to stop Partai Aceh at all costs and believe that pre-election attacks on its members or offices are linked to the TNI”.

The TNI’s fears are misplaced, despite the campaign rhetoric of some Partai Aceh members. The GAM leadership has repeatedly reiterated its commitment to the 2005 Helsinki agreement, and most ex-combatants, far from wanting to resume the conflict, are more interested in getting what they see as their fare share of post-conflict benefits – in some cases, through extortion.

GAM fears may also be misplaced, but until the attacks – including four murders in February and March of men associated with Partai Aceh or GAM’s former armed wing – are solved, suspicions of TNI involvement will persist. One key to reducing tension lies in better law enforcement, but Aceh police have a poor record of identifying perpetrators of serious crimes. The appointment of a respected new provincial police commander in late February should help.

GAM and the TNI each believe the other has reneged on commitments made in Helsinki or afterwards, but existing channels for dialogue have been weakened by the non-participation of key parties. Civil society has a huge role to play in getting the peace process back on track, by demanding accountability from GAM and the TNI, getting citizens to demand more from elected officials, and refusing intimidation from any party.

“Getting through the election with a minimum of violence is the short-term goal”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “The longer-term objective should be to bolster the peace, but both sides will have to take concrete steps to address problems in their own ranks before any confidence-building measures will work”.

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