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IPS: Aceh Savours Tsunami's Gift of Peace

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  • Y.W.Loke
    http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35813 INDONESIA: Aceh Savours Tsunami s Gift of Peace Marwaan Macan-Markar BANGKOK, Dec 12 (IPS) - As it approaches the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13, 2006

      INDONESIA: Aceh Savours Tsunami's Gift of Peace
      Marwaan Macan-Markar

      BANGKOK, Dec 12 (IPS) - As it approaches the second anniversary of the
      Indian Ocean tsunami, the Indonesian province of Aech, which took the worst
      beating, is basking in a spirit of hope that would have been hard to imagine
      two years ago.

      But that spirit stems from the ballots -- not the heroic rehabilitation
      effort along the battered coastline -- cast in a largely peaceful and
      historic election for the top provincial and district government posts in
      that oil and gas-rich region on the northern tip of Indonesia.

      The victors in this unprecedented poll, conducted Monday, include those held
      in custody by the Indonesian government when the devastating waves struck
      the Aceh coastline on Dec. 26, 2004.

      Irwandi Yusuf was held for his role as a leader of the separatist Free Aceh
      Movement (or GAM, in Acehenese). On Tuesday, the 46-year-old and his running
      mate Muhammad Nazar were savouring their landslide victory, capturing nearly
      39 percent of Monday's vote. Their closest rivals only got 17 percent.

      ''This will strengthen the peace process. This is a milestone,'' Juri Laas,
      spokesperson of the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM), told IPS over phone from
      Banda Aceh, the capital of that Indonesian province.

      Jakarta appears keen to cement this achievement judging by its early
      reaction to the poll in a region where its troops were locked in conflict
      with GAM for nearly three decades. Close to 15,000 people were killed during
      this separatist insurgency.

      ''The government will respect the outcome regardless of who wins... We must
      congratulate whoever wins the elections,'' Indonesian Vice President Jusuf
      Kalla was quoted as having told 'Antara,' the country's state news agency,
      according to 'The Jakarta Post,' newspaper.

      This week's poll came after weeks of an open election campaign between
      candidates associated with GAM, such as Irwandi --who besides being trained
      in guerrilla warfare was also the rebel movement's spokesman -- and other
      contenders with links to Jakarta.

      The election was part of the peace deal that was signed by the Indonesian
      government and GAM leaders in August 2005 to help move this troubled region
      down the road to reconciliation. The clamour for peace arose out of the
      devastating impact of the tsunami, which resulted in over 165,000 deaths in
      Aceh, and over 530,000 people being displaced.

      In all, the tsunami killed over 220,000 people, left millions homeless and
      crushed the coastline in 11 countries across the Indian Ocean. There were
      expectations that Sri Lanka, suffered the second highest death toll after
      Aceh, with 35,399 fatalities, may also use the opportunity of an
      unprecedented natural disaster help restore peace in that island nation's
      bloody ethnic conflict. But, instead, a lack of sincerity and roadblocks
      placed by the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels has seen the
      conflict escalate.

      The AMM, which was mandated to monitor the peace agreement that was signed
      in Helsinki, the Finnish capital, oversaw GAM's decommissioning of weapons
      and the disbanding its armed wing. The rebels also gave up their demand for
      an independent homeland. For its part, the Indonesian government had to
      remove non-essential military regiments and police forces and also grant an
      amnesty to GAM fighters and prisoners with alleged links to the rebels.

      In fact, Dec. 15 will be the last day for the AMM, a sign of confidence in
      the distance this peace process has travelled. ''We are positive that peace
      has been achieved and there is a sufficient level of security for us to
      close the mission,'' said AMM's Laas.

      Monday's poll, furthermore, appears to have consolidated the hold GAM's new
      generation of leaders, like Irwandi, have over the separatist movement's old
      guard, who were led by Acehnese men living in exile in Sweden. Helping the
      likes of Irwandi is the broad sweep of support received by the former,
      younger rebel leaders like him contesting as independents -- since GAM has
      still not fully transformed into a political entity.

      ''I was surprised that they pulled off a victory of this proportion with
      support from the towns and provinces,'' Sidney Jones, a leading Indonesia
      analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), the Brussels-based think
      tank, told IPS during a telephone interview from Banda Aceh. ''The
      combination is a strong sentiment endorsing GAM's new leaders.''

      Equally important, she says, is that the poll throws weight behind GAM to
      pursue its political agenda without having to turn to violence. ''The people
      have given GAM a clear message to achieve change peacefully, through the
      political process.''

      Such twin scenarios appeared far from certain on the eve of the poll, as ICG
      pointed out in a Nov. 29 report, which warned that a rift within GAM's old
      guard and new was ''complicating'' Aceh's transition towards peace and

      ''There will inevitably be internal recriminations about who lost what and
      whether GAM could have won if it has stayed united,'' added the ICG report.
      ''It might not be a bad thing for GAM to win a few district offices but lose
      the governorship.''

      Irwandi did the opposite, by leading his team to win the governor's and
      vice-governor's post. They were the two main stakes in a poll that also saw
      candidates run for posts to head 21 local districts. Media reports from
      Banda Aceh say that some 75 percent of Aceh's 2.6 million registered voters
      turned out for the polls.

      And while Aceh waits for the official polling results to be released, on
      Jan. 2, its first elected governor has sent a reassuring message to his
      former adversary in battle. ''We will ask the central government to help us
      in implementing the Helsinki agreement,'' Irwandi was quoted as having told
      'Antara' following Monday's poll, according to 'The Jakarta Post.'


      Indonesia's Aceh looks for peace after landmark poll

      By Achmad Sukarsono REUTERS
      7:43 a.m. December 12, 2006

      BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - A former rebel separatist appeared set on Tuesday to
      become the next governor of Aceh after a landmark election in the Indonesian
      province battered by decades of conflict and a horrific tsunami.

      Sample counts from polling stations showed former rebel spokesman Irwandi
      Yusuf heading for victory after Aceh's first direct election for governor
      and other top posts on Monday.

      The official result will be announced in early January in an election that
      aimed to shore up an Aug. 15, 2005, peace deal between Indonesia and the
      Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists.

      Yusuf who negotiated for GAM in the talks with Jakarta, said on Monday he
      would wait for the official result before declaring victory.

      But the 46-year-old, who escaped from jail when the tsunami smashed into the
      province on Dec. 26, 2004, said the road ahead would not be easy.

      'Aceh in the future will be like a wild horse because there are so many
      things to do,' said Yusuf, a trained veterinarian whose demeanour is more
      that of an academic than a gun-toting rebel.

      If the official results confirm the findings of surveys, which have proven
      generally reliable in the past, it could transform a rag-tag guerrilla
      movement that abandoned its dream of independence into a political force.

      Glyn Ford, head of the European Union monitoring mission, told a news
      conference the election was generally fair.

      'All evidence to date indicates the elections and the inclusive process have
      given the people of Aceh the candidates they voted for,' he said.


      Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, an architect of the peace deal, said
      the result of the vote should be respected.

      'Whichever pair is winning, they deserve it and we must congratulate them,'
      Antara news agency quoted him as saying.

      The EU's Ford said cooperation between Jakarta and elected leaders in Aceh
      with GAM background was crucial.

      Many among the estimated 2 million voters on Monday were optimistic about
      Yusuf, who two surveys indicated topped the field of eight candidates with
      almost 40 percent of the vote.

      'Aceh suffered a lot during the conflict,' said Zul, a fish seller in Banda
      Aceh. 'We need change and peace everywhere and Irwandi is the right choice.'

      While Aceh remains distrustful of Jakarta, national political parties did
      make some inroads, taking the next three places behind Yusuf in the
      governor's race.

      Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, chief of the agency tasked with rebuilding
      tsunami-hit areas in Aceh, said he would welcome cooperating with Yusuf if
      the former rebel was elected.

      'I am open for any inputs, open for any suggestion for the people of Aceh
      and the development of Aceh.'

      He said by March the agency would have built 79,000 houses, but added many
      were empty due to poor infrastructure and almost 50,000 tsunami survivors
      were still living in wooden barracks.

      The tsunami left 170,000 dead or missing in the province of 4 million
      people, but put pressure on Jakarta and GAM to end fighting that had killed
      more than 15,000 since an insurgency was launched in 1976.

      Former Rebel Leader Wins at Aceh Polls

      Indonesian media hail Aceh elections, warn of challenges

      UN chief encouraged by Aceh poll
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