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Acehnese wait for full conflict resolution

Jakarta Post - December 27, 2007

Ridwan Max Sijabat, Banda Aceh – A new Aceh government has already been formed, security has improved and the Aceh Monitoring Mission which was tasked to watch over the implementation of the peace agreement has concluded its tasks. But human rights abuses have yet to be resolved and many former combatants are still without adequate skills to feed their families. Many political prisoners have yet to obtain amnesty from the government.

In last year's first direct local elections, former activists and also rebels were elected to ruling positions in the province, regency and municipal administrations.

Many here say they were just eager to vote for new people rather than those from the old political parties. Now some say they have yet to see their lives improve under the new leaders.

Muzakir, an informal leader of a fisherman community in Jangka Buya, GAM's former stronghold in Pidie, expressed happiness at today's peace. But he said locals were waiting for breakthroughs to free them from poverty and unemployment.

Authorities "have remained silent", he said, over the absence of a power supply and water purification facilities, as well as the damaged ponds and trawls.

The reintegration of former combatants and their families into society is a main lingering issue in the aftermath of the signing of the peace agreement in 2005. The Aceh Reintegration Agency (BRA), tasked to take care of former rebels, has acknowledged the complaints of many who have yet to receive the promised funds and land to allow them to resume their livelihoods.

Almost all former rebels have handed over weapons to security authorities, but so far only some 2,600 have received the promised sum of Rp 3 million per person and a plot of land.

A BRA official said the figure of people requesting funds was now way beyond the initial estimate of 3,000 former rebels. "They're saying now that the families who supported them in hiding should also receive funds," the official said.

The reintegration agency came under even more fire when it said it would distribute a part of the reintegration aid to the Indonesia Military-backed civilian militias in Central Aceh. This followed an earlier agreement that such civilians would also be entitled to aid as victims of the conflict who survived attacks from GAM.

A truth and reconciliation committee and an ad hoc court to try unresolved rights abuses during the almost three decades of bloodshed has yet to be set up. Conflict victims and their relatives have often rallied at the governor's office, demanding a fair trial of perpetrators of human rights abuses.

Critics have pointed out the lack of political commitment from the central and province administrations to implement the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding.

Asiah Uzia, coordinator of the NGO Kontras Aceh, has said it was urgent the President issue a regulation to enable the formation of the truth and reconciliation commission. Pessimism for the commission's establishment followed the annulment of the law on such commissions by the Constitutional Court.

Chief spokesman for the Aceh Transition Authority (KPA) Ibrahim KBS called on the central and province administrations to gradually implement the peace agreement to bring justice to the Acehnese, which he said would enable them live normal lives.

He said at least nine political prisoners in prisons across the country had yet to receive amnesty from the government.

Fajran Zain of the Aceh Institute warned the government of possible chaos if people did not see immediate efforts to create a clean administration. He said people sensed a lack of harmony between Governor Irwandi Yusuf and his deputy Muhammad Nazar, and also mounting friction among elites of the former GAM.

"Irwandi has not been recognized as a GAM leader while Nazar, a member of GAM's executive board, continues to consolidate his SIRA (a non-government organization), which is seen to be developing into a local party to strengthen his political bargaining," he said.

He added while many former combatants had been satisfied with their current role in the local government and development projects from the local administrations and BRA, others had been disappointed.

Fajran said many regional heads who ran as independent candidates in the 2006 local elections had been frustrated in their efforts to improve people's lives, citing strong resistance from the existing bureaucracy.