Wed, Aug 16, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Aceh revels in peace, slams law

MIXED FEELINGS At a huge gathering yesterday, people marked a year without war in the province but many also expressed serious reservations about Jakarta's recent legislation

AFP , BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA

People shout slogans during a mass rally yesterday in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, to celebrate the first anniversary of the peace deal between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement that was signed in Helsinki, Finland.

PHOTO: EPA

Tens of thousands rallied yesterday in Indonesia's Aceh Province, celebrating a full year of peace but calling on Jakarta to honor the pact that ended three decades of separatist warfare.

Crowds crying "Peace!" and "Long live the Acehnese!" converged around the province's main mosque to mark the historic pact signed on Aug. 15 last year between the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the central government.

Muhammad Adam, a 32-year-old from North Aceh District, arrived in the provincial capital Banda Aceh with fellow villagers on Sunday ahead of the event.

"We all just wish that this peace will last forever," he said.

"During the conflict, people in my village could barely make a living but now, after the MOU [memorandum of understanding, or peace pact], we can go calmly to the rice fields without fear," he said.

ElShinta radio estimated as many as 200,000 people had turned out.

The pact -- signed in the wake of the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which slammed into Aceh's coast killing some 168,000 people -- ended 29 years of fighting in the province at the westernmost tip of Sumatra.

One of Asia's longest-running separatist conflicts saw the death of an estimated 15,000 people, mostly civilians.

Under the deal that was signed in Helsinki by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, who attended the formal celebrations yesterday, GAM dropped its demand for independence in return for wide-ranging autonomy.

A law that was drafted to cement the peace deal was passed by the government last month but has elicited criticism from former rebels as well as ordinary Acehnese, who have already held large protests.

Yesterday's rally was also held to urge the Indonesian government to draft amendments to the law to bring it fully in line with the deal drafted in Helsinki.

Muhammad Nazar, head of the Aceh People's Referendum Information Center, expressed the concerns held by some Acehnese.

"We ask the Indonesian government not to betray Acehnese people again. Right now, Acehnese are very disappointed because the Aceh autonomy law contradicts the Helsinki MOU," said Nazar, who served more than three years in prison for sedition before the pact.

"Actually, Acehnese people are peace-loving and do not like war, therefore the peace that we seek is an honest and fair peace," he said to the crowd.

Critics of the law say several articles effectively curtail the power of the local administration in areas like natural resource management, while the role of the Indonesian military in Aceh remains unclear.

Anwar, a 45-year-old farmer who took a 12-hour truck ride to attend the rally, said it was an outlet for him to express his wishes.

"What I really want is for the Indonesian government to no longer trick Acehnese because during the conflict, we truly suffered and could not work peacefully," he said.

Aceh police spokesman Jody Hariyadi said about 400 officers, assisted by an undisclosed number of soldiers, were providing security.

also see stories:

Aceh's villagers yearn for peace after decades of conflict

Barbs fly as Indonesian officials talk with former Aceh separatists

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