Indonesia: Aceh’s Latest Peace Accord – The Long And Unending Road


Anthony L Smith

On 9 December 2002, the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed an accord called the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA). On paper, the COHA looks far stronger than the 2000 Humanitarian Pause Agreement. Like the Humanitarian Pause, the COHA has also managed to make short-term reductions in levels of violence. However, there are signs that COHA may also fail with both the Indonesian military and GAM preparing to resume a conflict that neither side can hope to win.

In some senses, the COHA is something of a step forward in attempts to find a solution to the Aceh problem – even if ultimately it is not successful. This latest agreement has seen Indonesia agree to the presence of international monitors, which is a major departure from the government's previous hard-line opposition on the issue. In return, GAM has accepted regional autonomy in principle, but has refused to give up their insistence on full independence. Both sides have also agreed to provisions that would, in theory, scale down tensions. Indonesia promised to reduce troop numbers, while taking the greatly disliked Brimob (Mobile Brigade Police) out of field operations. GAM agreed to disarm through a series of 'lock-ups' of weapons and ammunition. In principle, the agreement also nods at allowing GAM a political role in upcoming elections – although currently this is at odds with Indonesian law. It is also noteworthy that negotiations in Aceh have occurred through the good offices of the Henry Dunant Center – the only case of successful involvement of a third party NGO in high level conflict resolution.

Since the agreement was signed, however, the gloss has come off its intended improvements. GAM accused foreign observers from the Philippines of siding with the Indonesian government and demanded their withdrawal. Elements of the military and the police have issued public threats to the GAM movement and accused it of undermining the agreement. With the worsening security situation, international monitors have had to pull out of the countryside by April 2003.

While the latest peace accord in Aceh witnessed a greater compromise than has been seen in the past, the COHA is in danger of being overwhelmed by looming violence in the fashion of earlier rounds of negotiations. Clear differences have emerged within the Indonesian political and military elite on how to deal with the conflict in Aceh. 'Doves' like Coordinating Minister for Security, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Hassan Wirayuda, are pushing for a political solution to the conflict, while 'Hawks', principally within the military, tend to see the problem as one that can ultimately be solved through might of arms. The latter view is completely at odds with the recent history of Aceh, where the military, through strong-arm tactics and wholesale human rights abuses, have managed to alienate a substantial portion of the population.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, US Pacific Command, the US Department of Defense, or the US government.)

WATCHPOINT: Will the Indonesian government allow GAM to transform itself into a mainstream political movement in future elections?


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