Peace the only option for Aceh

16 Jun 2005
Aguswandi, TAPOL
Appeared in: 

Irresponsible statements from politicians in Jakarta is the last thing Acehnese need at this time, post-disaster. Yet this is what we hear from members of the House of Representatives in Jakarta, as they issue statements criticizing the peace talks in Helsinki.

Tjahjo Kumolo, the chairman of Indonesian Democracy Party of Struggle (PDI-P) faction, has described the negotiations as a waste of time. Others have said that there has been too much talk and no concrete results.

Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Soetardjo Soerjogoeritno has also urged the government to halt negotiations with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) because he says it has "internationalized" the conflict in Aceh.

What they are saying, in effect, is "forget about peace". All this after the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the tsunami. After the deaths of thousands more in conflict; after many Acehnese expressed their dreams for peace, it is immensely irresponsible, arrogant and ignorant for those in Jakarta to derail the negotiations. Many Acehnese, meanwhile, including the majority of the province's regents, continue to express their support and hopes for the process.

There are many Acehnese that do view the Helsinki process as inadequate. The exclusion, for example, of civil society groups from the process has been a major cause of concern. But many in Aceh continue to support negotiations as they hope it can be the beginning of the end to the decades of violence.

The majority hope that the talks will continue, disputes can be settled, and peace can be fully implemented in order that lives can begin anew.

Armed conflict is not an option anymore, but peace is. Building a sustainable peace in Aceh is a critical condition for reconstruction and the rebuilding of hope in Aceh. But this is far from easy in any situation, even more so where -- as in Aceh -- the conflict has been entrenched for so many years.

These dissenting voices from the national legislature are failing to look at the many points of agreement reached by the government and GAM in this process. Nor have they looked at the potential common ground that can be found. They are focussing instead on a substantively irrelevant aspect of the talks. This is the question of an international role in the process.

For some of them, this rebuffing of foreign help is attributable to concerns that international involvement could result in Aceh becoming another East Timor. This phenomena, call it post-East Timor Syndrome, has promoted a kind of endemic paranoia, whereby any international group trying to mediate or help the peace process must be some kind of Trojan horse: A gift brought to our house, but carrying the enemy within to destroy our home.

So instead of looking at foreign contributions to the negotiation and settlement process as an opportunity, this is seen as yet another reason to reject the talks. In a letter from some DPR members to the government, it was stated that the government plan to allow observers into the process would internationalize the situation in Aceh. The government, they said, should not allow foreigners to be involved.

This aspect of the international role is a denial of a necessary reality given that Aceh has already become an internationally recognized disaster area in the wake of the tsunami. During the rebuilding phase at least, Aceh can no longer be said to be "owned" simply by the Acehnese and Indonesia, it is also an interest of the international community. Huge sums of money, aid and help for Aceh has come from all parts of the world.

In terms of building peace, the involvement of the international community is also important in Aceh. There are ongoing problems in efforts to build trust between the Acehnese and the government, thanks to the endless military operations in Aceh, so external mediation such as that offered to the Acehnese peace process by the international community must be made welcome. Indonesia has done this very same thing, offering its officials in mediating roles for conflicts in other Asian countries.

The opposition to the negotiation process by sections of the Indonesian public also needs to be addressed -- immediately -- by the government if they are serious about finding a route to peace in Aceh. The main obstacle thrown up by this opposition is not the hostility itself but how the government works to challenge or contain it.

The hostility towards fuel price hikes was far more widespread than that seen in resistance to the Helsinki process. But in that case it was in the government's interest to make serious efforts to convince the public to support the administration's decision. This does not seem to be the case with the Helsinki process.

The government's meetings with GAM have just completed their third phase, and many points have been agreed on. Yet the public remains almost wholly unaware of the progress or concessions achieved. The opponents of the talks in Helsinki have deliberately distorted the process and its objectives but the government is making little effort to challenge them.

Tagged: Aceh