Apr 22, 2024 Last Updated 1:12 AM, Apr 19, 2024

The price of peace

The price of peace

Blair Palmer


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 William Nessen 

In order to pave the way for a peaceful future in Aceh, the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding included provisions for reintegrating ‘persons who have participated in GAM activities’ into society. A Reintegration Fund was to be established to provide ‘economic facilitation’ to former combatants, pardoned political prisoners, and civilians affected by the conflict. Now, two years after the MoU, significant reintegration funds have been spent, but reintegration programs have faced real difficulties. Economic and social reintegration has not been achieved, and delivery of the funds has even led to conflict.


The reintegration of ex-combatants and victims is a crucial part of ending any conflict. Reintegration means a return to normal social and economic life: decent jobs must be available, and ex-combatants and victims must be accepted back into their communities. Once ex-combatants have left behind their military lifestyle, conflict is less likely to recur, and ex-combatants and victims can build the social connections which act to preserve peace in society. In Aceh, although the conflict pitted GAM against the military rather than Acehnese against Acehnese, reintegration of GAM ex-combatants is still vital to the peace process.

In February 2006, the government created the Aceh Peace-Reintegration Agency (BRA) to handle reintegration issues. From a total fund pool of US$150 million, cash payments of approximately $3500 were to be given to GAM combatants, $1400 for GAM non-combatants (or ‘civilian GAM’), $1400 for political prisoners, $700 for ‘surrendered GAM’ (those who surrendered before the MoU), and $1400 for members of anti-separatist groups (these anti-separatist groups had arisen during the conflict period and as in East Timor and Papua were often established and trained by the Indonesian military). There were also programs for conflict-affected people, as well as housing assistance for those whose homes were burned during the conflict, medical assistance for the injured, and compensation for those who lost relatives.

But from the beginning BRA had difficulties distributing the cash. First, there was a squabble over whether GAM would have to submit the names of the 3000 combatants mentioned in the MoU. The government said they wanted the names so that they could make sure the funds got to the right people. But GAM leaders were concerned that the government wanted the list for intelligence purposes – after the failed 2002 ceasefire, the government had rounded up the negotiators on the GAM side and imprisoned them. Also, GAM did not want to have to decide which 3000 to list, since the real numbers were far higher than that. As noted in Edward Aspinall’s article in this edition, the underestimate of 3000 was used in the MoU since GAM wanted to limit the number of weapons it would have to surrender in the disarmament phase. Eventually, it was agreed that a list of 3000 names would be given to BRA but that it would not be passed on to any other party except AMM (the Aceh Monitoring Mission) and the bank transferring the funds.

BRA also had administrative problems. In April 2006 it launched a program for conflict-affected people, requesting proposals from groups seeking funds. Within three months they had received almost 50,000 proposals, covering 600,000 people. BRA was totally unequipped to deal with this volume and so the program was cancelled, leading to dashed expectations and angry conflict victims and ex-combatants. Eventually, a new community-based mechanism was used - the BRA-KDP program - which worked through the existing Kecamatan (sub-district) Development Program (KDP) run by the Indonesian government with assistance from the World Bank.

Unemployed and traumatised

BRA faces several major challenges in using its funds to achieve reintegration. One problem is BRA’s almost exclusive focus on economic programs, with the result that very little attention has been paid to social and psychological needs. A study conducted by the International Organization for Migration, Harvard Medical School, and Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh on the psychosocial condition of Acehnese people in areas hard-hit by the conflict reported extremely high levels of trauma (see the article by Jesse Grayman in this edition). Clearly, much more than just economic programs are needed if Aceh is to advance towards a peaceful and prosperous future.

A second problem is that delivering cash does not necessarily lead to employment for ex-combatants. The MoU stated that all former combatants, former political prisoners, and conflict victims were to receive an allocation of suitable farming land, employment, or social security from the government if they were unable to work. These were ambitious promises, and perhaps the difficulty in providing them contributed to the government’s decision to merely provide cash payments instead. Stimulating the economy and creating jobs is a difficult and long-term process, and in the short term the vast majority of former combatants remain unemployed.

When economic opportunities are lacking, there is more temptation for ex-combatants to engage in extortion and other crime. Extortion by former combatants is still occurring, especially in development projects and construction contracts. There has also been a spate of armed robberies in the former GAM stronghold of the east coast region, in which firearms left over from the conflict period have been used. Overseas Acehnese will also be hesitant to return to Aceh if there are no economic opportunities (see the article by Antje Missbach in this edition).
Third, delivering cash payments, although easier to do than revitalising the economy, can create problems. The funds for GAM and anti-separatist organisations have been delivered through their leaders, and some individuals have claimed they have received nothing. Also, because GAM received payments for only 3000 combatants when in fact there were many more, the funds were further divided. Some individuals reported receiving only about a quarter of their allotment. In some GAM regions, part of the funds were pooled and used to start some joint businesses. This was also risky, as in some cases there were claims of corruption by the leaders, and even if everything was above board there was no guarantee that the business would earn money.

Delivering funds through leaders is a major test of the cohesion of an organisation. Some branches of the Aceh Transitional Committee (KPA), the body established to represent former GAM combatants, did not deal with it well. In Southwest Aceh district, the funds have led to a split in the organisation, which affected the recent elections there. Since KPA has been instrumental in maintaining the peace by controlling its members, such splits have the potential to weaken the organisation’s structure and so jeopardise the peace process.

A local split

When the first round of reintegration funds were handed over to the KPA branch in Blang Pidie (the GAM region covering Southwest Aceh), former combatants agreed to pool the money and start a construction business by renting some trucks. However, some rank and file members later felt that the money may have been mismanaged by current KPA head (and former GAM regional commander) Abdurrahman, since the business had not produced profits and the trucks were nowhere to be seen.

The second and third rounds of funds were distributed to individual ex-combatants. Since there were payments for only the 3000 mentioned in the MoU, the KPA further divided the payments in order to spread them among the much larger total of ex-combatants. With some money having been used for the construction business and other KPA costs, each ex-combatant received much less then the stipulated $3500 – about $500, not enough to do much more than pay off some personal debts, and support a family during a few months of unemployment.

But the bigger problem in the KPA in Blang Pidie is that one faction within the organisation claims that they received nothing. This faction is led by Burhan, who was regional commander before Abdurrahman. Burhan stopped fighting and left the region before the MoU. While he claims to have gone to Java for medical treatment, Abdurrahman and other KPA leaders claim that he abandoned the struggle,and is therefore not entitled to a full share of reintegration funds. They also claim that those who abandoned the struggle like Burhan tended to join anti-separatist organisations (like the ‘surrendered GAM’) and thus were eligible for anti-separatist reintegration funds. Burhan, on the other hand, says he didn’t join any other organisations, has no access to any reintegration funds, and deserves a full share. He has approached BRA directly to ask them to handle this problem.

The split between these two factions affected the elections for the Southwest Aceh district head which took place last December. The KPA faction associated with Burhan supported PAN’s (National Mandate Party) candidate, Akmal Ibrahim, a newspaper editor, while Abdurrahman’s faction supported the PKB (National Awakening Party) candidate, Sulaiman Adami, who is the former head of a regional administration-owned company. These two candidates got the highest vote totals and thus made it to a second round run-off. A third, KPA-affiliated, candidate was supported by only some of the KPA leaders and thus did not make the second round.

In the second round, Burhan’s faction continued to support PAN’s candidate and Abdurrahman backed the PKB candidate (both factions accuse the other of being bought through ‘money politics’). As the polling approached on 4 March, supporters of the two candidates clashed violently. In the end, the PAN candidate won. This win may strengthen the position of Burhan’s breakaway KPA faction. Each faction now claims to have the support of 75 per cent of GAM in Blang Pidie.

Such conflicts within KPA are dangerous; ex-combatants who have split away from KPA in other regions have been blamed for crime and politically motivated grenade incidents in recent months. Weak KPA leadership and mismanagement of funds also threaten the peace since it means that ex-combatants do not receive the assistance they need to establish new livelihoods. Better efforts at reintegration need to be made. This is especially vital now, as Acehnese have huge expectations for results in the first year of Governor Irwandi’s tenure. Widespread disappointment could threaten the peace.   ii

Blair Palmer (blair.palmer@anu.edu.au) is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the Australian National University, and conducted research on conflict and elections in Aceh as a consultant for the World Bank’s Conflict and Development Program in Jakarta.

Inside Indonesia 90: Oct-Dec 2007

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