Indonesia needs to ensure that a hard-won peace in Aceh Province becomes permanent, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said yesterday, ahead of the anniversary of a deal to end three decades of conflict.
The separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government signed a pact in Helsinki on Aug. 15 last year, aimed at ending a war in which 15,000 people died and giving Aceh greater power over its own affairs.
"We must consolidate this peace and bring it to a point of no return," Yudhoyono told a conference on Aceh in the capital.
"To be successful, that permanent peace will have to be built on human security, political reconciliation, economic reconstruction and social unity," he added.
Last month, Indonesia's parliament passed a landmark new law that paved the way for the direct elections for executives in the province.
GAM officials have welcomed the new law but said that some of its provisions must be amended because they were not in line with the peace agreement.
A message from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan relayed to the conference by an official called for successful elections.
"It would be tragic if after coming so far, any party in Aceh resorted to violence," the message said.
An Indonesian minister previously said the first direct elections could take place by Dec. 10.
Last year's truce followed months of talks between the two sides, and was further spurred by the Dec. 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that left about 170,000 people dead or missing in Aceh.
Despite the deal, potential problems still lurk.
GAM has complained that under the new landmark law, the region's legislature will only be consulted, rather than be required to consent to future policies on the future of Aceh.
The international peace mission monitoring implementation of the deal has said the new laws are broadly in line with the pact.
Jakarta argues the bill has made Aceh the envy of other provinces due to its new powers. Aceh-born Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said amendments to the law were possible "two years down the road" after the bill is implemented.
Thousands of people, mostly from GAM strongholds on Aceh's northern coast, have been descending upon provincial capital Banda Aceh for a rally to mark the anniversary of the pact.
Organizers expect more than 40,000 people to gather today at the city's black-domed grand mosque.
"We want eternal peace not artificial peace that can be destroyed in the future," said deputy chief organizer Dawam Gayo, adding the new Aceh bill should follow the letter of the truce.
"The Acehnese are happy that the Indonesian government can embrace GAM and produce laws on governing Aceh. But there are some weaknesses in the bill and we don't want such things to brew dissatisfaction later," Gayo said.
Banners supporting the truce and calling people to beware of elements bent on ruining it were seen throughout Banda Aceh along with fluttering red-and-white Indonesian flags.
The anniversary celebrations will be attended by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, the chief mediator of the Helsinki talks, and Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the chief architect of Aceh's post-tsunami peace process.