Monday, January 24, 2005

A Breakthrough In Aceh?

One of the unintended consequences of the earthquake-tsunami catastrophe has been the changing political dynamic in Aceh. Before the earthquake struck, Aceh was mired in bloody fighting between Indonesian government troops and fighters of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The government's intensive counterinsurgency operations, launched in May 2003, had pushed GAM into the hills and had claimed more than 3,000 lives, including both fighters and civilians. The new Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, promised a non-military solution to the longstanding Acehnese claims for autonomy or secession. But nothing new was on the table except for another extension of the state of emergency.

Since the earthquake-tsunami the tensions between the government and GAM have been well-documented, with claims and counter-claims adding to the deep reservoir of resentment against Jakarta's heavy hand. Prospects for drawing the two sides together because of the relief effort and media attention have not looked very hopeful. As Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group says here:
It will not lead to negotiations with the rebels, because the military is dead set against the idea, convinced that talking is a sign of weakness, that it gives GAM legitimacy that it does not deserves, and that it will undo all its efforts to crush the insurgency by force.
But it does seem that a breakthrough may be in the offing. A press release yesterday from the Crisis Management Initiative (headed by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari) says that talks between Indonesian officials and representatives of GAM will start in Helsinki later in the week. The BBC is reporting that the Indonesian military leader, General Endriatono Sutarto, has said his troops have stopped attacking rebels to give the dialogue a chance. Perhaps a great good can come out of the terrible suffering that the people of Aceh have endured.

1 Comments:

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