'Creation of new provinces in Aceh unnecessary'

The Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) will have its term extended until August pending completion of deliberation on a bill on Aceh government which will provide the legal basis for the first direct elections ever held in Aceh. AMM chairman Pieter Feith spoke with The Jakarta Post's Tiarma Siboro and Dwi Atmanta on the current political affairs in the province, nine months after a peace deal was struck to end three decades of conflict there.

Question: How do you see the implementation of the Aceh peace accord, especially the reintegration of former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels into society?

I think it is going very well. The government has been very generous in making it work with financial support for the ex-GAM combatants, prisoners and victims of the conflict. Our assessment is that the whole process is moving forward, and a lot of ex-GAM combatants are taking part in civil society and the local economy, and they have given up the armed struggle.

Now, the economy is still weak in Aceh, you must understand that. There is still unemployment, and of course, there is a level of destruction after the tsunami. But that is not part of the peace process; that is something that needs to be addressed as part of the reconstruction, and the European Union is providing assistance together with the local and international community to help ex-GAM combatants find new jobs.

How do you think the government and the local administration should deal with job opportunities for ex-GAM members?

The government has to facilitate an economic climate, whereby jobs can be created. I think training is very important. We train people to have new skills. The government is also expected to provide farmland and people will get the opportunity to try and start small businesses.

And I think that it is very important also that the elections are being held and that the new government will then have the responsibility of overcoming all of the issues.

The AMM has invited a Swedish legal advisor to review some pending cases regarding amnesty for GAM members. How is it going?

Yes, they -- the (Swedish) judge, Malik (Mahmood), who represents GAM, and Minister (Hamid) Awaluddin, who represents the government -- have started working. There are about 65 cases of disputed amnesty, some obvious problems. Hopefully we can solve them by the end of June. We have to look at each case individually. We have to see if amnesty is possible in cases where the inmates are ex-GAM operators.

The condition for amnesty corresponds to the presidential decree issued on August 29 (last year). You know that being a ex-GAM combatant is a criteria for amnesty. Basically, people who were not committed to GAM activities will not be awarded amnesty. Worse yet, if they committed terrorist acts, then the minister will not grant them amnesty. Actually, I think we can reduce the list of disputed cases in the agreement between the government and the GAM, and if that is not possible, I will have to take a decision.

Do you think that debate over the bill on Aceh government at the House of Representatives may affect the upcoming election and the future of peace in Aceh?

I regret that it (the deliberation) takes so long. I think it would be better if it could be concluded because it should be our aim to exit. I think people are very nervous about our service being extended. But you know that our presence must be extended because the law has not been established. I hope the legislature can conclude the bill quickly, so that we can hold the elections no later than August.

I think the process is going well so far. It again confirms that the future of Aceh lies firmly within the Republic of Indonesia and they (the government and the GAM) are happy with that.

There is an article in the bill that allows for the creation of new provinces in Aceh. What is your comment?

The MOU states that Aceh's borders correspond with the border agreement of June 1956. So, I agree with the government that the creation of new provinces will not be a helpful response. And I think it will more important to develop a democratic environment in the election of governor and the local legislature. But to create new provinces, what would be the purpose of that?

I had a discussion with people who are behind this and there is a feeling of neglect (of the peace accord) among the Gayo people or some in highland areas, but you can't improve that by other means or by creating a new province. At this moment, I think it would not be helpful. It would be against the MOU. Such a policy will be decided by the elected legislature, though I don't see why it is necessary. A policy on the creation of new provinces has been established in Papua, has it brought a positive development? So, let's think twice.

The demand for new provinces in Aceh surfaces as not all Acehnese support GAM's struggle...

Let's be positive. Let's be reasonable. We have democracy, and it works very well. Everybody should be very proud. If there would be a GAM governor or a GAM vice governor, will that make people very nervous? If the majority of the Acehnese support GAM, they will vote for GAM. I think as long as there is a discussion area, as long as GAM remains within the Republic of Indonesia and as long as there is no doubt that they will continue staying within the Republic of Indonesia, I think we have to be positive. There are people who criticize the MOU, who are not happy with it, but we have to see that the ongoing peace process in Aceh is a unique opportunity, so we have to think in a positive way.


* Published by The Jakarta Post, May 11, 2003