August 14, 2006

Indonesian president urges permanent Aceh peace

By Ahmad Pathoni

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia needs to ensure that a
hard-won peace in Aceh province becomes permanent, President
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Monday, ahead of the
anniversary of a deal to end three decades of conflict.

The separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian
government signed a pact in Helsinki on August 15, 2005, aimed
at ending a war in which 15,000 people died and giving Acehnese
greater power over their own affairs.

"We must consolidate this peace and bring it to a point of
no return," Yudhoyono told a conference on Aceh in the capital.

"To be successful, that permanent peace will have to be
built on human security, political reconciliation, economic
reconstruction and social unity," he added.

Last month, Indonesia's parliament passed a landmark law
that paved the way for direct elections of executives in the
province on Sumatra island's northern tip.

GAM officials have welcomed the new law but said that some
of its provisions must be amended because they were not in line
with the peace agreement.

A message from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan relayed to
the conference by an official called for successful elections.

"It would be tragic if after coming so far, any party in
Aceh resorted to violence," the message said.

An Indonesian minister previously said the first direct
elections could take place by December 10.

In the coastal village of Lam Badeuk in Aceh a group of
locals at a coffee shop spoke of the changes peace has brought.

"Shootings from both sides often occurred here especially
from up there," said Zailani, a carpenter, pointing to the
hills where GAM guerrillas often hid to ambush Indonesian

"We have not heard any gunshots for a quite a long time,"
he added.


Last year's Helsinki-signed truce followed months of talks
between the two sides, spurred by the December 26, 2004 Indian
Ocean tsunami that left around 170,000 people killed or missing
in Aceh.

Despite the deal, potential problems still lurk.

GAM has complained that under the new landmark law, the
region's legislature will only be consulted rather than be
required to consent to future policies on the future of Aceh.

The international peace mission monitoring implementation
of the deal has said the new laws are broadly in line with the

Jakarta argues the bill has made Aceh the envy of other
provinces due to its new powers. Aceh-born Information Minister
Sofyan Djalil said amendments to the law were possible "two
years down the road" after the bill is implemented.

Thousands of people, mostly from GAM strongholds on Aceh's
northern coast, have been descending upon the provincial
capital Banda Aceh for a rally to mark the anniversary of the

Organisers expect more than 40,000 people to gather on
Tuesday at the city's black-domed grand mosque.

"We want eternal peace not artificial peace that can be
destroyed in the future," said deputy chief organiser Dawam
Gayo, adding the new Aceh bill should follow the letter of the

Banners supporting the truce and calling people to beware
of elements bent on ruining it were seen throughout Banda Aceh
along with fluttering red-and-white Indonesian flags.

An environmentalist expressed worries that resource-rich
Aceh's rich timber reserves would be over-exploited with peace.

"We need to raise awareness that environmental issues
should be part of the peace process. Currently, protecting the
forest is a bottom priority compared to the local elections and
improving welfare," said Ilham Sinambela of WWF Indonesia.

The anniversary celebrations will be attended by former
Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, the chief mediator of the
Helsinki talks, and Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the
architect of Aceh's post-tsunami peace process.

(Additional reporting by Achmad Sukarsono in BANDA ACEH)