Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Aceh pact a birthday gift for Indonesia


Wednesday • August 17, 2005

Thang D Nguyen

AS INDONESIA celebrates its 60th Independence Day today, the nation cannot give itself a more meaningful gift for its birthday than the peace agreement that was signed between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Helsinki on Monday.

The deal, clinched after five rounds of talks, allows the Acehnese political autonomy, the setting up of local political parties and the eventual pullout of the Indonesian military (TNI) from the province.

Some caution is advised as similar agreements have been signed in the course of this long-running conflict, but they did not result in peace.

In 2002 a peace agreement mediated by the Henry Dunant Center was signed in Geneva, giving the Acehnese special autonomy, but not full independence.

Unfortunately, former President Abdurrahman Wahid (also known as Gus Dur) did not prepare for the talks, and the signing of the agreement with the Acehnese rebels was a blunder.

Fighting continued in Aceh and the rebels expanded their operations there. Gus Dur's successor, former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, declared martial law in Aceh and sent 35,000 troops to the province in May 2003.

This was the largest military operation in Indonesia's history since its invasion of the now independent Timor Leste. The aim of the deployment was, in the words of former TNI chief Endriartono Sutarto, "to destroy the armed forces of GAM through [sic] their roots."

The government and GAM have to honour the Helsinki agreement to avoid repeating history. In other words, GAM has to put down its weapons once and for all, and Jakarta has to abide by the ceasefire and allow local political autonomy to take hold in Aceh.

Another reason for Indonesia to be careful with the Helsinki deal is that it has given rise to jealousy among provinces such as Papua, which faces political conflicts and poverty, despite its natural resources.

Papuans believe that their elders' vote to join the Republic of Indonesia in 1969 was fraudulent. The Papuans — especially those of Melanesian origin — are now calling on Jakarta to honour the law on special autonomy that it signed in 2001, saying that it has not been well implemented.

This law was expected to bring about policies of affirmative action for indigenous Papuans, the establishment of the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) and peace. But none of the promises have been fulfilled.

As it has done in Aceh, Jakarta is meeting local challenges in Papua with TNI forces. Unfortunately, this treatment only further widens the existing distrust between the Papuans and Jakarta. To avoid further conflicts in Papua, Jakarta should honour the special autonomy law.

The United States, which expressed interest in Papua's plight, has said that it will not interfere in ways that would affect Indonesia's unity, but will help the government to fulfil the special autonomy law.

Likewise, both the Indonesian government and GAM will need support to implement the Helsinki pact successfully.

While Indonesia has made progress, its journey to peace and unity is far from over. If it succeeds in implementing peace deals like the Helsinki accord, not only will it become a more peaceful and united nation, but it can also be a shining example of peace-building for other nations, such as Thailand and the Philippines, which face similar challenges.

The lesson goes: War does not bring about peace; it only begets itself. And to end war, peace must be honoured.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist and has published two books about Indonesia.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A decent balanced article containing good advice on the need for peace in overcoming the Aceh and Papua problems. However, you mentioned Gus Dur in relation to the 2002 peace agreement in Aceh sponsored by the Henri Dunant Center. Gus Dur actually ceased being President in July 2001. There was an earlier "humantarian pause" implemented under Gus Dur's presidency in 2000, but it was highly ineffective. Perhaps a little more research would be useful. Also the article on Schapelle Corby was a shocker. Did you suddenly get taken over when you wrote that article by a Golkar Party activist, or worse, a DFAT bureaucrat?

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