Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Acehnese Conflict and Peace Process and Its Implications for Peacebuilding in Mindanao


Mr. Shaber Arsad

Opening Remarks
Mr. Tsutomu "Ben" Suzuki
Director, Japan Foundation Manila

Welcome Remarks
Dr. Mashur Bin-Ghalib Jundam
Dean, Institute of Islamic Studies

Prof. Taha Basman
Center for Moderate Muslims-Philippines

Introduction of Speakers
Ms. Elsa Clave
Ms. Nefertari Arsad

Talk on the Acehnese Conflict and Peace Process
Shadia Marhaban
President, Acehnese Women’s League

Film Showing
“The Black Road”

Sharing and Insights on the GRP-MILF Peace Process
Atty. Musib Buat
MILF Peace Panel

Prof. Rudy Rodil
GRP-Peace Panel

Open Forum
Asst. Prof. Macrina A. Morados

Closing Remarks
Dr. Eduardo Tadem
Associate Professor, Asian Center

Emcee: Asst. Prof. Macrina Morados


Aceh is a province situated on the north-western tip of Sumatra Island in Indonesia. The separatist movement led by the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM, or Free Aceh Movement) is the contemporary extension of older struggles which began after independence in 1949. The lack of social and economic progress in Aceh due to discriminatory policies of the Jakarta government's led to the formation of GAM in 1976 and the relaunching of an armed struggle for social justice and Acehnese independence. The conflict intensified in 1989 as GAM led numerous offensives against the police and military. From 1989 to 1998, then President Suharto launched a large-scale military operation which turned Aceh into a Military Operation Zone. Human rights violations were frequent, including murders, kidnappings, beatings, arbitrary detention, torture, and rape committed mainly by the Indonesian army, but also, less often, by GAM combatants.

The fall of the Suharto regime in 1998 marked the beginning of a period of political reform known as Reformasi which temporarily cooled the Aceh conflict. Following a new round of peace negotiations initiated by then President Abdurrahman Wahid in 1999, around 500,000 people gathered in front of the largest mosque in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, on 8 November 1999, to demand a referendum. This widely-supported initiative quickly spread and an alarmed Indonesian military moved to suppress the movement.

On December 9, 2000, a humanitarian ceasefire was finally signed which led to an Agreement of Cessation of Hostilities (CoHA). Consequently, the national government passed in August 2001 the Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) Law which granted Aceh unprecedented authority over its internal affairs. Unfortunately, these two initiatives failed to bring sustainable peace and political autonomy. Violations of the CoHA as well as Jakarta's failure to implement the NAD law led to further oppression. Then President Megawati Soekarnoputri declared a state of military emergency in Aceh in May 2003, and a year later, a state of civil emergency. The province was closed to foreigners, most Non-Governmental Organizations and the media.

From 2001 to 2004, violence and fear ruled Aceh. Farmers abandoned their farm lands. The streets became unsafe due to frequent shoot-outs and villagers beaten, raped or tortured in revenge. Vehicles had to pay road taxes to both GAM and the Indonesian army checkpoints. Hijacking of trade goods often took place. Schools and private houses were burned as punishment for GAM supporters.

On 24 December 2004, a powerful tsunami struck the North-western coast of Sumatra and caused tremendous damage in Aceh. About 2,500 villages were levelled, around 167,000 people were killed and 500,000 individuals were rendered homeless. The international response to the disaster forced a reluctant Indonesian government to reopen Aceh to the world.

The tragedy, ironically, became a new opportunity to rekindle the peace process. The Indonesian government announced on 23 January 2005 the resumption of peace talks with GAM in Helsinki. On August 15, 2005, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for attaining peace in Aceh was signed by the two parties. The province was demilitarized in December 2005 with political integration within the Republic of Indonesia beginning in 2006. Provincial elections finally took place on December 11, 2006 which resulted in the election of Irwandi Yusuf, a GAM member running as an independent, as the new Aceh governor.

The Acehnese peace process provides important lessons for other countries with similar long-standing separatist movements. The Philippines is one such country where independence movements by the Moro people have long simmered in Mindanao and Sulu. It is therefore crucial to understand the Aceh experience and search for insights and opportunities that could be useful for the resolution of the conflict between the Mindanao independence groups and the Manila government.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:56 AM

    And what do you think of Obadiah Shoher's arguments against the peace process ( )?