May 10, 2021 Last Updated 9:17 AM, May 10, 2021

Aceh: Two years of peace

Aceh: Two years of peace
Supporters of the GAM candidate at a campaign rally in Bireuen
Edward Aspinall

It’s not so long ago that journalists and commentator were describing the conflict in Aceh as one of the most intractable in Asia . In mid-2003, a three year attempt to broker a peace deal between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government had broken down irreparably, or so it seemed. The government declared  a “military emergency” and senior generals promised that they were going to eliminate GAM “down to its roots.” So began one of the most violent periods in Aceh’s modern history.

What a difference a few years makes. Since the Helsinki peace accord was signed in August 2005, GAM has not only agreed to disarm itself, but one of its former leaders, Irwandi Yusuf, has been elected as the province’s new governor. A new law for the government of Aceh has been passed, reorganising relations between Aceh and the central government. Aceh has suddenly become a shining beacon of peace, and a model for other areas afflicted by armed conflict.

This edition of Inside Indonesia, the first in our new on-line version, outlines key aspects of Aceh’s transformation, and highlights some unresolved legacies of its violent past.

Our lead article, “Guerillas in power ” by Edward Aspinall, describes the extraordinary changes which have occurred among former GAM leaders, as they face unanticipated challenges of running local government. Blair Palmer (“The price of peace ") discusses some of the problems in the 'reintegration' process designed to smooth the transition back to civilian life for ordinary GAM fighters. Antje Missbach ’s “Aceh homebound ” describes a different sort of transformation, as many refugees who fled their homeland during the conflict years now face hard choices in deciding whether or not to return to Aceh.

While these articles show a guarded optimism, others focus on an aspect of peace-building which so far has been largely neglected in Aceh: the legacy of past human rights abuses. Jesse Grayman (“No nightmares in Aceh ”), a member of a large team which has surveyed post-conflict trauma in Aceh, identifies the scale of the problem and provides a moving insight into the suffering experienced by many ordinary Acehnese. He does so by discussing the dreams they have experienced since the conflict years. Leena Avonius (“Waiting for justice ”) looks at the prospects for human rights trials and other justice mechanisms. Paul Zeccola, provides a portrait of Khairani Arifin, one of Aceh’s unsung human rights defenders.  

Finally, Lucy Rhydwen-Marett (“Rebuilding lives”) reflects on the reconstruction process that has occurred in Aceh since the December 2004 tsunami.

In welcoming you to our new version of Inside Indonesia, it’s fitting that we focus on one of the greatest achievements of Indonesia ’s democratisation: peace in Aceh. In keeping with Inside Indonesia's traditional human rights focus, however, it’s important also for us to draw attention to Aceh’s victims and help ensure that their experiences are not forgotten by the outside world.

Edward Aspinall (edward.aspinall@anu.edu.au) researches Indonesian politics at the Australian National University , and is the coordinating editor of Inside Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 90: Oct-Dec 2007

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