War and peace

The Indonesian government and the Aceh rebels signed a historic peace treaty on August 15 marking the end of the 30-year-long civil war that claimed 15,000 lives. The accord was signed in Helsinki after seven months of talks mediated by former Finish President Martti Ahtisaari, a former peace broker in the Balkans and Namibia. Ahtisaari successfully persuaded the two sides to come to an agreement to let international aid reach the Aceh region, which was devastated by last year’s tsunami. The settlement became possible after the Free Aceh Movement or GAM agreed to renounce the demand for full independence and to disarm, while the Indonesian government agreed it would slash its troop deployment in the region down to 14,000 from 35,000. Under the treaty, a new law on governing Aceh will come into force by March 2006, allowing the province to retain 70 per cent of the revenue from oil and natural gas, and giving GAM and Aceh-based political parties the right to participate in elections to be held within 18 months. If all goes well, the accord would set a remarkable example of how peace negotiations can be successfully handled particularly for countries struggling to root out terrorism or are fighting separatist movements. That autonomy is possible without division and peace could be established through dialogues are the other messages.

Both the warring sides took advantage of the opportunity offered by the tsunami. But peace in itself would not have been achieved without the political will of the Indonesian government. The government was embarking on a conciliatory track to woo the rebels to come for a political dialogue for quite sometime. Since the Acehnese had long complained of misrule by Jakarta over the past 20 years, the province had been offered varying degrees of autonomy. And in spite of the people’s doubt about both the government’s willingness to share power and GAM’s sincerity in peace, the parties in the conflict worked towards a carefully crafted accord. The Indonesian experience is a testimony to the fact that given the hard work, willingness to compromise and commitment of the leaders, negotiated settlements between the disputants are possible. One hopes the leaders and the rebels in Nepal will draw a powerful lesson from the Indonesian experience.