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Former Aceh rebel warns of future unrest over peace pact

Agence France Presse - August 10, 2006

Jakarta – A former senior separatist from Indonesia's Aceh said Thursday that a new generation of rebels could be spawned within a decade amid dismay over the implementation of a peace pact signed a year ago.

Mohammad Nur Djuli, who was a senior member of the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and helped negotiate the pact inked last August, said a newly-passed law on self-rule for the province could encourage youths to take up arms.

GAM officials and activists have complained about several articles in the law, arguing that the power of the local administration is curtailed in international cooperation and natural resource management and that the military's role is unclear.

"We, the negotiators, are in danger of being ostracised by our people for signing the MOU (memorandum of understanding, or peace pact) that seems to be unenforceable as it is," he told a panel discussion on a year of peace.

"If the injustices are not addressed, then I fear other GAMs might be born in a decade from now," Djuli said, adding that thousands of Acehnese have protested against the autonomy law.

Djuli said former guerrillas were committed not to return to fighting because they had surrendered all their weapons.

A future generation who felt betrayed by the peace deal may however provoke violence, he said, following in the footsteps of GAM which was formed due to Jakarta's failure to give the province autonomy as promised when national independence was proclaimed in 1945.

"Why did GAM take up weapons in the first instance? Because... we came to feel that our parents were fooled by promises of autonomy... Maybe my children or my grandchildren will think that I was stupid," Djuli said.

"It is hoped that political leaders in Jakarta are far-sighted enough to address this now," he said.

Information Minister Sofyan Djalil, who attended the discussion, said dissatisfaction with the autonomy law passed last month could be resolved by amendments or by contesting it in the country's constitutional court.

"We adopted the law this year, but if we find some weaknesses, some limitations then next year or two years from now we (could) change that," Djalil told reporters.

Another speaker at the forum however said the greatest risk to the peace deal was the lack of jobs for the hundreds of ex-guerrillas, most of whom returned home to already-poor rural villages.

"What happened is that they are still looking for jobs and their communities have the burden of supporting the GAM members," said Sandra Hamid, from the Asia Foundation, a US based non-governmental group. "Potentially this could be a peace spoiler if not addressed."

Hamid praised the deal, saying expectations that guerrillas or security forces might seek revenge for atrocities committed during the long conflict had failed to materialise.

She also noted that contrary to predictions, former rebels unhappy with the peace deal had not split from the GAM leadership and resumed fighting.

The peace pact, signed in Helsinki and spurred on by the devastating 2004 tsunami which lashed Aceh, ended 29 years of conflict. The unrest had claimed the lives of about 15,000 people, mostly civilians.