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Jakarta Post

Ten years of peace in Aceh

  • Vincent Guérend and Francisco Fontan

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, November 14, 2015   /  04:01 pm

Ten years ago, the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). To mark the international conference on the 10th anniversary of the MoU on Nov. 13 and 14, the EU looks back at 10 successful years in which the people of Aceh and the government of Indonesia worked together to rebuild Aceh after one of the worst natural disasters of our time.

On Dec. 26, 2004 a tsunami devastated the coast of Aceh. The disaster created a new found sense of urgency on the side of both the Indonesian government and GAM to resolve the conflict and begin the reconstruction of Aceh. Under the leadership of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and vice president Jusuf Kalla, the foundations for a lasting peace were laid.

The subsequent negotiations were facilitated by former Finnish President Martti Athisaari. The talks culminated in the signing the MoU in Helsinki. This peace accord reiterated Indonesia'€™s sovereignty over Aceh, while granting the region wide-ranging autonomy and allowing Aceh-based political parties to participate in national politics. The GAM agreed to disarm its fighters while the Indonesian government reduced its military presence.

The EU actively supported the peace process and the long-term reconstruction effort in Aceh. To monitor the implementation of the peace agreement, the EU deployed the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) in close cooperation with five contributing ASEAN countries. As an impartial observer, the EU mission investigated complaints and alleged violations of the MoU.

The civilian mission was a success and came to an end after a year, when both parties had fulfilled their obligations. The AMM was the first EU-led mission in Asia and the first cooperation initiative with ASEAN of its kind.

Since the end of the observer mission, the EU has continued to assist peace building in Aceh through long-term capacity building, reintegration and police training programs. Together with the AMM, these peace support measures amount to some ¤40 million. In 2006 the EU deployed an election observation mission to monitor the first local elections in post-conflict Aceh.

The peace has survived 10 years and several election cycles. The resolution of the conflict ended Aceh'€™s isolation and opened the door for development, investment and economic reintegration with the rest of Indonesia and the world.

The EU was also one of the largest donors to Indonesia'€™s reconstruction effort that succeeded in rebuilding Aceh after the Tsunami. The EU contributed ¤200 million towards the humanitarian response and was the largest donor to the multi-donor trust fund for long-term reconstruction, accounting for some 85 percent of the total fund of ¤440 million.

While Aceh'€™s autonomy is crucial to the highly successful Aceh peace accord, it also brings new challenges. In order to ensure the livelihood of the Acehnese people, it is paramount that the Indonesian government and local authorities remain in close cooperation to stimulate inclusive economic development.

Regarding the sharia law implemented in Aceh as part of its special autonomy, it is crucial that the central and local government safeguard human rights and protect the rights of minorities, regardless of religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Aceh'€™s natural resources are abundant and key its future development. It is therefore in the interest of the Acehnese people these resources are used in a sustainable way. Aceh is home to part of the unique Leuser Ecosystem, an area of approximately 30 million hectares of rainforest. For almost 20 years, the EU has supported the protection of the Aceh forests through a series of projects that amount to over ¤50 million.

The 2004 tsunami and the intensive reconstruction process that followed put increased pressure on the forests of Aceh, as the demand for forest resources increased rapidly. Therefore, the EU has expanded its assistance to the Acehnese authorities by providing financial aid and technical assistance.

Since 2013, the EU is also actively supporting Indonesia'€™s response to climate change, by involving local stakeholders in the conservation of the rainforest. More recently, the EU has helped the government of Aceh by proposing measures for sound land-use and low-emission development planning to the Aceh government.

Looking back at the last 10 years, the EU is proud to have contributed to peace and stability in Aceh. Further, we believe the success of Aceh'€™s peace process and reconstruction effort, led by the people of Aceh and the Indonesian government, is an example for the wider region.

The EU has actively supported this process and is strongly committed to keep cooperating with the Government of Indonesia and local government towards the further development of Aceh.

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Vincent Guérend is EU Ambassador to Indonesia. Francisco Fontan is EU Ambassador to ASEAN.

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