Saturday, April 30, 2005

Forging A Lasting Peace - Indonesia needs international support to make the accord work.

South China Morning Post
Dec 27, 2002

By Frank-Jurgen Richter and Thang Nguyen

American educator John Dewey once said, "The best way to abolish war is to honor peace." This is the very principle that is guiding the resolution of Indonesia's regional conflicts.

Indonesia is still traumatized by the October 12 tragedy in Bali, and recovering from it is proving to be no easy task. The economic impacts of the Bali bombing - which killed 192 people, 88 of them Australian, and left more than 300 others wounded - are devastating. The HK$42 billion tourist industry has been severely damaged: tourists are choosing to visit other locations. The economy has already experienced a capital flight as foreign investors and businesses have begun to withdraw their funds and cut jobs. Economists are right to say that the government's growth forecasts for the economy - 3.5 per cent this year and 4 per cent next year - are optimistic.

Despite this dismal outlook, there is hope for peace in Indonesia following the signing of the landmark peace accord between the Indonesian government and rebels from Aceh to end the 26-year conflict that has cost 12,000 lives. The accord gives Aceh more autonomy but not full independence. The Free Aceh Movement had been fighting with the Indonesian military and calling for complete independence from Jakarta. It is important to understand why the Acehnese feel opposed to authorities in Java and want to break away from Jakarta. Occupied by the Netherlands in 1870, the Acehnese fought hard in Indonesia's successful 1945-49 war against the Dutch colonists. Like people in the outer provinces, the Acehnese have been alienated by the Jakarta-centric government.

There is a wide power divide between Java and the outer islands. Under former president Suharto's 32-year regime, the majority of government employees, high-level professionals and middle-class Indonesians were Javanese, most of whom lived in Jakarta. Many government employees were sent to other islands to work in the local governments or to manage state-owned enterprises. Economically, the Suharto administration did many favors for Java, which is not rich in natural resources like other Indonesian islands. The regime protected Java's agricultural sector. The state oil company was run as an extension of Suharto's office. Revenue from the oil sector was used to finance projects favored by the president and the head of the state oil company. Aceh is at the northern tip of Sumatra, which is rich in gas and timber. In giving Aceh more autonomy, the Indonesian government has shown its willingness to decentralize. In addition to economic benefits, it is in Indonesia's best interests not to let Aceh go because, like East Timor, an independent Aceh could have a domino effect in other provinces.

It is also in the best interests of other Asian countries that Indonesia remain intact. The reason is simply that if Indonesia - the world's largest archipelago, fourth most populous country and largest Muslim community - separates into unstable pieces, the region will become unstable, too. For that reason, political leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations - of which Indonesia is a key member - should support President Megawati Sukarnoputri and her government in worthwhile efforts like the Aceh peace accord. They should offer to help in times of crisis.

Other countries can, and should, help as well. The U.S. and Japan - which have been major supporters of Indonesia - are right to maintain their development projects and other co-operative programs in Indonesia. E.U. nations serve their bilateral relations with Indonesia well by showing their solidarity. The leaders of the E.U. can offer to help, as some of them did for the U.S. after the September 11 attacks.

This effort will take time, commitment and leadership, but it must happen for an integrated and peaceful Indonesia.

Frank-Jurgen Richter is director for Asia and Thang Nguyen is regional manager for Asia of the World Economic Forum.


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