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Acehnese optimistic of lasting peace one year after peace deal

Kyodo News - August 10, 2006

Rudy Madanir and Christine Tjandraningsih, Jakarta – A recent survey has found that the majority of people in Aceh are satisfied with the current condition in the northernmost Indonesian province and believe in lasting peace, a year after the government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement signed a peace deal in Helsinki.

A former rebel of the movement, locally known as GAM, separately said, however, that injustice still occurs in Aceh and if not fully addressed, similar movements may spring up within five to 10 years.

Pollster Lingkaran Survey Indonesia told a press conference Thursday that 67 percent of Acehnese are satisfied with the current condition in the province.

According to the survey, 56.7 percent of the 440 respondents, interviewed between July 18 and 21, were confident the current condition will lead to eventual peace.

"The survey also found that the peace deal has boosted the feeling of nationalism among the Acehnese, with 57.8 percent of the respondents regarding themselves as Indonesians rather than as people of certain ethnic or religious groups," said Denny Januar Aly of the LSI.

A similar survey in October last year found that 45.5 of respondents regarded themselves as Indonesians.

Asked how proud they are to be Indonesian, 77.7 percent responded by saying very proud or quite proud, compared with only 56 percent in the October survey.

A nationwide survey recently carried out by LSI also found that 81.2 percent of Indonesians said they wanted GAM, which fought for independence from Indonesia for 29 years, to once and for all disband.

Separately, former senior GAM rebel leader Muhammad Nur Djuli told a panel discussion of the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents' Club that GAM is committed to not return to armed struggle. "GAM will not take up arms anymore. That's for certain," Djuli said.

Djuli said, however, that although the entire population of Aceh, including those who were anti-GAM, has embraced the former rebels, many GAM fighters are still jobless and are living in poverty.

The Law on Aceh Governance, which was recently passed by the parliament in accordance with the Helsinki peace deal to give the province greater autonomy, "may be enforceable, may be nice in the short term," he said.

"I must say that the current government is generous, pro-peace and pro-democracy. But this government will not last forever. So, if we have a system that is based on the current enforcer, it (peace) won't last long," he said.

"In the long term, popular dissatisfaction and the feeling of injustice once again will set in. If the injustice is not addressed, I feel like in five to 10 years, other (similar movements) might be born," he added.

Sandra Hamid of the Asia Foundation, a US non-governmental organization, shared a similar view, saying the most important challenge for the government and civil society is to address the issue of injustice, which potentially could be the peace spoiler.

"What is happening since Aug. 15 last year is encouraging and the prospect of peace is promising for many reasons, but the most important thing is that people really want it," Hamid said.

"They are tired of conflicts, and no politicians and political parties would be willing to be seen as spoiling the peace for the Acehnese," she added.

Information and Communications Minister Sofjan Djalil, who also attended the discussion, however, promised weaknesses will be addressed, including those related to the law.

"I think the history of abuse of the central government during the Suharto era will never come to Indonesia forever. I do believe that," he said.