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Hope for lasting peace marks GAM anniversary in Aceh

Jakarta Globe - December 4, 2009

Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh – Former rebels of the Free Aceh Movement celebrated the 33rd anniversary of the founding of their now-disbanded organization by holding mass prayers and providing meals for orphans of the 30-year civil conflict.

For the provincial capital and surrounding Aceh Besar district, the commemoration of the founding of the group, also known as GAM, took place at the grave of national hero Tengku Cik di Tiro at Meureue village, Indrapuri subdistrict. The event was attended by hundreds of former rebels, local villagers and orphans of the war.

During the proceedings, several members of the Aceh Legislative Council (DPRA) and lawmakers from the Aceh Party, the political party formed from GAM, underwent the peusijuek, a traditional purification ceremony.

Sofyan Dawood, a former GAM spokesman, told reporters that there were high hopes that the legislators elected in April's polls, from Aceh Party or otherwise, would work to improve the province.

"We can hope that Aceh in the future can be fought for in accordance with the Helsinki MoU," he said, referring to the 2005 truce between GAM and the central government. The deal put an end to three decades of armed conflict that killed about 25,000 people, most of them civilians.

According to Sofyan, several clauses of the agreement had yet to be implemented, including the issuance of a presidential decree on the separation of authority between the central government and Aceh, which provided Aceh's government with much of the impetus to fully embrace the peace process. He also said the Acehnese people hoped their lawmakers would enact laws and policies to benefit society.

"Hopefully GAM's anniversary can provide historical momentum to create a better future for Aceh," Sofyan said. "We hope for a more advanced and dignified Aceh in the future."

Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, who had recently returned from the hajj in Saudi Arabia, attended the ceremony at the offices of the Aceh Transitional Committee (KPA) in Lamreung village, on the outskirts of Banda Aceh.

Also present were DPRA spokesman Hasbi Abdullah, from the Aceh Party, and hundreds of former rebels. The KPA helps former GAM guerrillas assimilate into society.

Irwandi, who was also the last spokesperson for GAM before it disbanded, said the group's anniversary was commemorated in part to pray for the welfare of the Acehnese people and for eternal peace in the province. "In the future, Dec. 4 will become a historical date in Aceh and be celebrated annually," he said, without elaborating.

KPA spokesman Tengku Machsalmina said the anniversary was celebrated to honor GAM members who died during the conflict and the Acehnese who died fighting Dutch colonization. "The ceremony is a mass prayer, dinner and charitable event for the orphans of the conflict," he added.

KPA members across Aceh were told to hold a mass prayer in their respective areas, and not to raise the GAM flag or banners because Aceh had now achieved peace. During the conflict, flags were raised on GAM's anniversary.

"If anyone violates this, then he or she must be arrested and face court," Machsalmina said. So far, no incidents of flag-raising have been reported.

GAM was founded on Dec. 4, 1976, by Tengku Hasan di Tiro, the grandson of Tengku Cik di Tiro. Although Hasan, 84, was in the province, he did not attend any of the events.