Wed, Jul 12, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Protesters against autonomy law paralyze Aceh

DPA , BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA

Parts of Indonesia's strife-torn Aceh Province ground to a halt yesterday following a strike to protest autonomy legislation before the national parliament that opponents say violates the 11-month-old peace accord.

Shops were shuttered, streets empty and public transport halted from Aceh's eastern district toward the capital Banda Aceh to protest the bill's expected passage yesterday afternoon in parliament in Jakarta.

The bill's opponents, led by the former Free Aceh Movement (GAM), claim it violates a peace agreement signed in Helsinki in August last year between the government and the guerrilla fighters that limits Jakarta's control over the resource-rich province.

"We are concerned over the plan because we see many things in substance of the draft law that deviate from the spirit of the memorandum of understanding," Malik Mahmud, a senior GAM member, told journalists in Aceh on Monday.

However, yesterday's strike was being led by members of the Aceh Referendum Information Center, a political group that once campaigned for independence for the province, and not the former rebel force.

"The strike is to pressure the parliament and the Indonesian government to up with a bill that is truly in line with the peace accords," said Dawan Gaya, a strike organizer.

The autonomy bill allows GAM members to form a political party and contest provincial elections slated for later this year, and cedes up to 70 percent of revenues from gas, oil and other natural resources to the province.

But opponents of the legislation say language outlining the central government's authority in governing the provinces, as well as the role of the feared armed forces in providing security, is too vague.

GAM agreed to resume peace talks and drop its demands for independence after the 2004 Asian tsunami killed some 177,000 people in Aceh, leading to the settlement of a low-level 29-year civil war that killed around 15,000 people, mostly civilians.

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