August 14, 2006

Indonesia’s Aceh celebrates one year of peace

By Achmad Sukarsono

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - Thousands of Achenese
gathered on Tuesday around the provincial capital's black-domed
mosque to mark the anniversary of a landmark truce and to urge
Indonesia's government not to water down the pact.

Truck driver Rasyidin drove 11 hours with 35 of his
neighbors from a northern Aceh village to join the rally.

"If I do not like the peace I have enjoyed in the past
year, I would not be here," the 40-year old said.

"I hope it stays that way, but we do not know what the
future has for us," he added, standing beside his yellow truck.

The separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian
government signed a pact in Helsinki on August 15, 2005, aimed
at ending a 30-year war in which 15,000 people died and giving
Acehnese greater power over their own affairs.

Acehnese from across the resource-rich province on the tip
of Sumatra island, many from GAM stronghold areas, have
descended upon Banda Aceh in the last two days.

Organizers expect more than 100,000 to take part in a

The official anniversary celebrations later on Tuesday 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.

Last month, Indonesia's parliament passed a bill that paved
the way for direct elections of executives in the Aceh 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.

Truck driver Rasyidin had little idea of the truce's
content, although a banner on his truck said: "We do not want
to be fooled again."

Others gathering around the mosque had clearer opinions.

"The Aceh people have the right to object if they have a
problem with an iota in the bill. We are thankful for the truce
but we want to ensure it will not fail us," said Ibrahim Nyak
Mad, a handicraft maker from Sigli, a two-hour drive away.

"We are victims of the conflict. We are entitled to enjoy
the entire deal," he said, insisting the rally was no GAM

Jakarta argues the bill has made Aceh the envy of other
provinces due to its new powers. Information Minister Sofyan
Djalil said last week that giving Aceh additional powers could
trigger lawsuits from those who think the province already has
a good deal.

But the Aceh-born Djalil has also said that amendments to
the law were possible "two years down the road" after

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

Pieter Feith, head of the Aceh Monitoring Mission, said in
a statement his group would extend its stay beyond a September
15 deadline until December elections, although with a heavily
reduced force of 35 monitors.

Last year's Helsinki-signed deal, which followed months of
talks between GAM and Jakarta, was spurred by the December 26,
2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that left around 170,000 people
killed or missing in Aceh.