July 25, 2005
ACEH PEACE DEAL: 'RAYS OF HOPE' SHINE ON STRIFE-RIDDEN REGION
** The agreement is a "triumph for common sense and good faith."
** Wary observers caution that the proposed deal will be "extremely difficult to implement."
** Papers question the exact future form of Aceh's "special autonomy."
** Non-Indonesian outlets agree that the "tragedy of the tsunami" made this accord possible.
'Grounds for optimism'-- Optimistic papers agreed the peace accord reached in Helsinki between the Indonesian government and the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) "deserves a positive response." Indonesia's Muslim intellectual Republika noted the "big hope that peace will finally come true," while economic-political Suara Merdeka called it the "crucial and historic moment to end" the conflict. Several dailies singled out the "commitment of the new government" of President Susilo for praise, while others applauded GAM's decision to give up its "separatist demands." Thailand's independent Nation said that "credit must be given to all parties" because both sides "understood the importance of compromise."
'Major issues remain unresolved'-- Skeptics stressed there were "still some serious obstacles" to peace. Britain's independent Economist mentioned several, including "stiff resistance" from Jakarta's "stubborn army" and "lucrative smuggling, drug-running and extortion rackets" that profit from continuing conflict. Noting Aceh is "still far from peaceful," Indonesian writers warned the conflict's "lingering trauma and suspicions...would not easily fade away." Christian-oriented Sinar Harapan contended that "fear and uncertainty" still pervade the province. Other outlets predicted that keeping the peace in Aceh would be "further complicated" by struggles for its "plentiful natural resources."
Indonesia 'should not fear' Aceh political parties-- Many dailies judged GAM's demand to have its own political party in Aceh "worrying." Indonesia's pro-Golkar Suarya Karya rejected it as a "serious stumbling block," which would allow GAM to continue to promote being "independent and separated from Indonesia." Other outlets backed the peace deal's provision for granting a "certain degree of autonomy and latitude" to the rebels. Malaysia's government-influenced Star opined that letting GAM operate a party would "co-opt any residual secessionist sentiment" and help "preserve Indonesia's unitary identity." Several papers added the deal could become a "model...for other restless outlying regions of Indonesia."
Tsunami a peace 'catalyst'-- Peace in Aceh is a "gift of the tsunami," agreed observers. They cited both the "widespread international attention paid" after the disaster and the "fulsome and generous" response from other Indonesians. The "one positive...of this catastrophe" is that it "drove GAM and the government" to talks, said a Thai outlet. Hong Kong's leftist Asia Times argued the tsunami "created conditions for a political settlement" by "altering the political dynamics" in the devastated province. Saudi Arabia's pro-government Arab News concluded the "overwhelming tragedy" led to the "decent human response" of negotiation.
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, email@example.com
EDITOR: Ben Goldberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 26 reports from 9 countries over 11 - 24 July, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
INDONESIA: "Details To Be Ironed Out For Aceh Peace Agreement"
Haris Azhar noted in the independent English-language Jakarta Post (7/22): "The peace deal between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) deserves a positive response.... Two prerequisites for a lasting peace become necessary. The action on the ground--the planned withdrawal of troops and the disarmament of GAM--must be worked out in the next round of talks.... Unfortunately, the situation in Aceh is still far from peaceful and political and military elements there and in Jakarta could easily stir up a deal-breaking conflict.... It is even more necessary to win the hearts and minds of the Acehnese in a non-violent manner in order to bring about lasting peace.... Peace in Aceh is not a dream; it is a must."
"Welcome The Peace"
Bandung-based economic-political Pikiran Rakyat declared (7/20): "The peace between Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement must be welcomed by every side and implemented soon.... If there are still some crucial agendas [such as a local party and military withdrawal] in the agreement, it must be negotiable. The peace must become a milestone for future agreements "
"Don't Fear A Local Party"
Independent Media Indonesia held (7/20): "Once again, never be afraid of a local party [in Aceh]. This is healthy for democracy. We want that after the signing of the Helsinki meeting between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement, there will be no more bloodshed in Aceh.... We will again become an independent big family."
"A Lesson For The Future"
Surabaya-based independent Jawa Pos opined (7/20): "The Aceh conflict should become a lesson for the government in the future.... Originally, the problems in Aceh were triggered by the unfair distribution of resources by the central government. This situation then sparked the emergence of the separatist movement to break away from the Republic of Indonesia.... We await the implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the Free Aceh Movement."
"Engage In Comprehensive Discussion"
Independent Suara Pembaruan concluded (7/19): "Due to its relatively wide implication on the Acehnese community and Indonesia as a whole, the signed agreement document through the informal negotiations in Helsinki should be discussed openly by engaging a wider variety of stakeholders. For the Indonesian government, the contents of the agreement ought to be comprehensively discussed by the cabinet and the House of Representatives."
"Trapped For Too Long"
Christian-oriented Sinar Harapan said (7/19): "The people of Aceh who ought to be productive assets have been trapped in fear and uncertainty about their future.... We think the two sides [the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government] have reached the point of no return. The stakes are so huge. Aceh may once again be dragged into in a more serious conflict if the remaining problems cannot be resolved."
"May Peace Be With Aceh"
Muslim intellectual Republika commented (7/19): "Although Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that bears the name ‘peaceful village’, its citizens have not enjoyed peace for a long time. For about 26 years, since 1976, they have constantly been haunted by fear.... No wonder, news from the Helsinki meetings brought relief.... Indeed, there is a big hope that peace will finally come true in Aceh.... In order for the peace agreement to be meaningful, both sides must have good will that in turn could be translated into cooperation in building Aceh peacefully.... If there is good will and principal matters have been agreed on, other things can be talked about later on.... Even so, it does not mean that peace in Aceh would be easily realized. We understand that the 26-year conflict must have resulted in lingering trauma and suspicions that would not easily fade away only with the signing of an agreement, especially for those in the field. But once again, if the two sides have good will in building Aceh, it can only be achieved when there is peace.”
"A New Phase"
Semarang-based economic-political Suara Merdeka opined (7/19): "This is a new phase which could indeed become a crucial and historic moment to end the 30-year bloody conflict in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam [NAD]. The delegates of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement [Gerakan Aceh Merdeka--GAM] have finally signed the final draft of the memorandum of understanding on Aceh peace."
Riswandha Imawan wrote in Surabaya-based independent Jawa Pos (7/19): "At a glance, it seems to be a win-win solution. But, when it is carefully observed, we find the agreement [between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government] extremely difficult to implement.... The results of the negotiations in Helsinki have been a complicated victory for the Indonesian government."
Small-circulation pro-Golkar party Suara Karya concluded (7/16): "The local party issue [the Aceh rebel demand to form an Aceh-based party, which would require a change in Indonesian law] will remain a serious stumbling-block to the agreement. If the movement insists on the demand, the negotiations will certainly end. This means that there will be no more agreement for the sake of Aceh's future and the attempts to create a peaceful life there will be far from meeting expectations.... Is there a hidden agenda of the Aceh separatist movement behind the demand?"
"Disagreeing With GAM"
Surabaya-based independent Jawa Pos stated (7/16): "How do we respond to the demand proposed by the Free Aceh Movement [to create a local party in Aceh]? We disagree with it. Why? Because if we let it happen, then it is very likely that such a local party will have no platform which is in line with Indonesian political ideology.... In the future, this will give a strong basis to the separatist movement to gain political legitimacy in order to fight for Aceh [through its local party] as a state which is independent and separated from Indonesia."
Leading independent Kompas said (7/16): "The Helsinki meeting has entered the last round. One stumbling block is the demand to form a local political party in Aceh.... What is worrying about the existence of a local party in Aceh is that it will be used to hold a referendum. When the time comes, the separatist group will certainly not miss the opportunity to create a government."
Iwan Gardono Sujatmiko asserted in independent Suara Pembaruan (7/16): "The conflict in Aceh has undergone a transformation. The demands of the Free Aceh Movement [GAM] have shifted from independence to a referendum, then to a self-government, and now to special autonomy.... Facing this condition, the Indonesian government and ex-GAM members have been forced to compete and solve the political conflict to win Acehnese support as the third party."
Small-circulation pro-Golkar party Suara Karya remarked (7/13): "We hope that solidarity from society outside Aceh, including the international community, can support the area and people there so that the Acehnese can live normally as they have longed for. May the agreement between Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement [GAM - Gerakan Aceh Merdeka] yield a decision, namely, to end violence in Aceh."
"Determination For Peace"
Yogyakarta-based Islamist Kedaulatan Rakyat maintained (7/11): "What is certain is that the government has signalled its determination to make peace [with the Free Aceh Movement] in Helsinki, and all of this must get support from the Indonesian National Military Forces and the House of Representatives.... The negotiations in Helsinki must succeed and create peace before 17 August. That will be the gift from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla for the 60th anniversary of Indonesian Independence Day."
CHINA (HONG KONG SAR): "Aceh Deal May Give Regional Parties A Chance"
A commentary in the leftist, English-language online Asia Times read (7/19): "Devastating though it was, the Asian Tsunami brought the proverbial winds of change to Indonesia by focusing international attention on the festering conflict in Aceh and creating conditions for a political settlement.... Many would call the deal...a 'sell-out' but it is hard not to spot in it a model that could be replicated as Jakarta moves to deal with other regional movements in this far-flung archipelago.... There is the...possibility of removing the paranoia of Javanese political leaders and intellectuals that Indonesia was about to disintegrate.... The Indonesian government could consider changing its Java-centric political system to accommodate regionalism as an option.... The tsunami...gave a chance for the Achenese cause to become internationalised.... Sunday's Helsinki pact could not have been an easy bargain for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.... Yudhoyono was reluctant to change the law to accommodate GAM, fearing similar demands from other ethnic or religious groups. He offered instead to let GAM stand under the umbrella of existing political parties but nationalist legislators objected.... But it is still a long way from peace as the Helsinki deal is to demand rigorous socialisation and implementation measures. Will the Java-based political parties support the deal? Will the Jakarta media put aside its bias? How will Yudhoyono overcome his stubborn army? Only time can provide the answers to these questions."
"Guarded Welcome For Aceh Peace Pact"
Febry Orida wrote in the independent English-language Standard (7/19): "Though memories of failed accords left some doubting whether the latest initiative would really bring an end to the deadly conflict...the devastation left by the December 26 tsunami and the commitment of the new government boosted its chances.... Lasting peace would bolster the massive international relief effort in Aceh, still recovering from the earthquake and killer waves.... The peace accord will be a political boost for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and could provide a blueprint for resolving another secessionist crisis in Papua, at the other end of Indonesia's vast archipelago.... The accord grants rebels some form of political representation in the oil and gas-rich province in exchange for dropping their independence demand.... It was unclear whether the deal explicitly allows the rebels to form their own Aceh-based political party, a demand that could be an obstacle to the signing.... and could meet stiff resistance from nationalist and military factions in the legislature, which remain deeply suspicious of the separatist rebels.... Indonesian law states parties must be headquartered in Jakarta, out of fear regional parties could encourage separatism in the ethnically and religiously diverse archipelago."
"The People Of Aceh Deserve A Lasting Peace"
The independent South China Morning Post declared (7/18): "The formula agreed between Indonesian and separatist rebel negotiators to end nearly 30 years of conflict in Aceh maintains the momentum for peace that has been building since December's tsunami devastated the province. It is a fragile agreement that leaves challenges to be overcome on both sides. Nonetheless, it is a triumph for common sense and good faith."
JAPAN: "Hope For Peace In Aceh--A Gift Of The Tsunami?"
Liberal Asahi editorialized (7/20): "Fighting for independence had continued for nearly 30 years in Aceh Province, in the northern part of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. A massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami last December claimed the lives of nearly 170,000. Now, rays of hope are coming to the battered people of Aceh, as the Indonesian government and pro-independence guerrillas are expected to sign a peace accord in Helsinki next month. If the Aceh conflict is resolved, the situation in the pirate-infested Malacca Strait will become more stable. Aceh, which is known as a major rice-growing area, also has large natural-gas fields. It is now time to bring peace and economic prosperity back to Aceh."
MALAYSIA: "Between Style And Substance"
Bunn Nagara wrote in the English-language Chinese-owned government-influenced Star (7/24): "One week ago Indonesia and Thailand took very different paths to deal with their own domestic insurgencies. But while Indonesia embarked on democracy some years after Thailand, it seems to be faring better at it as well as in counter-insurgency.... Signs of progress seem more evident than any real achievement.... Some major issues remain unresolved. One is GAM's demand of a local political party in Aceh, which current law does not accommodate and needs a sceptical people's assembly to facilitate. Another is disagreement over whether GAM's disarmament or Jakarta's troop withdrawal should occur first.... The leaders' attitude looks promising. Both sides seem to draw strength from the shocking devastation of last December's tsunami...and are looking for a fresh start.... Doubts persist over encouraging provincial parties because of fears that it may encourage secessionism. But a special case may now be made for Aceh, after GAM agreed to abandon its independence call.... Slowly and within limits, the peace process unfolds as mutual trust evolves.... Allowing for local parties in Aceh would co-opt any residual secessionist sentiment, dousing its populist fire. Such a move would enable multiple parties to emerge, providing for local competition to GAM if not also splitting it through eventual factionalism.... Thailand shares Indonesia's predicament of provincial rebellion feeding on secessionist sentiment, aggravated by localised callousness, corruption and abuse of power. The different approach of each government is likely to produce a very different result. Instead of building democracy in the provinces, Prime Minister Thaksin chose absolute powers under a state of emergency.... The casualty rate in Thailand's southern provinces is nowhere yet near Aceh's.... It seems certain to rise appreciably before political solutions like Indonesia's are forthcoming. The ironic difference is that while Jakarta's approach is likely to preserve Indonesia's unitary identity, Bangkok's method seems destined to hasten the day of southern separation."
"Aceh And Jakarta Need To Maintain Understanding"
Government-influenced Malay-language Utusan Malaysia editorialized (7/19): "The people of Aceh have opened a new phase. Their leaders and Jakarta have reached an agreement in Finland to end the three-decade conflict. Indeed, the tsunami disaster has yielded 'a meaningful insight' for the two sides that faced difficulty in having dialogues earlier. Now, they have succeeded in reaching an agreement to end the unrest."
THAILAND: "Lessons Of Peace In Indonesia"
The independent English-language Nation held (7/19): "Thailand would do well to learn from the accord struck between the Susilo government and the Free Aceh Movement.... Both parties emerged from the meeting triumphant because both understood the importance of compromise. Credit must be given to all parties. First of all, it should go to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who changed his position on whether the Indonesian political system would allow the establishment of a local political party. By diverting from a long-held position in order to compromise, he was able to make substantial progress.... Representatives from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) were confident that they could do business with the Indonesian government and this confidence was certainly a major factor in the meeting’s ultimate success. Leaders of GAM also showed that the movement has grown more pragmatic and resilient.... Indonesia has agreed to allow GAM to set up a political party and take part in Indonesia’s democratic process. Such a move would provide the rebels with a certain degree of autonomy and latitude. If this agreement proves successful upon implementation, it can be used as a model to serve for other restless outlying regions of Indonesia such as West Papua.... The tsunami...also served to weaken GAM.... However, if there is to be one positive coming out of this catastrophe, it is that it drove GAM and the government of Indonesia to the table to end a 30-year conflict.... Thailand can learn some valuable lessons from the experience of our Indonesian neighbours.... As the conflict in the South wears on, the underlying cause behind all of the violence remains the same--locals there are tired of injustice and their lack of participation in the political process and in the daily goings on in the troubled South."
BRITAIN: "A Chance For Peace--But Some Big Obstacles"
The independent weekly Economist opined (7/20): "Negotiators representing the Indonesian government and rebels in Aceh have agreed on a formula to end the breakaway province’s deadly 30-year conflict.... However...there are still some serious obstacles.... A few weeks after the tsunami struck, a new round of peace talks began, sponsored by Finland. One of the main obstacles to a settlement was cleared early in the talks, when the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) dropped its demand for full independence.... There are certainly reasons for pessimism. Though the Indonesian government has given some ground on the rebels’ demands for political representation, it appears...that they will not yet be allowed to form a local political party.... The continuing unrest in Aceh has provided a handy cover for members of both the rebel group and some local army units to engage in lucrative smuggling, drug-running and extortion rackets--which means that some on each side have an interest in seeing the peace process fail.... The army’s powerful chiefs...are bound to worry that...the country could fall apart if too many concessions are now made to the separatists in Aceh.... However, there are also some grounds for optimism...signs that the authorities in the Indonesian capital...are more committed to a settlement...than before.... A lasting peace deal in Aceh could bring broader benefits to the whole region. The widespread international attention paid to Aceh after the tsunami may have helped to persuade the government, and indeed the rebels, to try a little harder to reach a deal.... Aceh’s oil and other plentiful natural resources could be better exploited, bringing prosperity to the region.... Last but not least, ending a long-running conflict by civilised means, rather than brute force, would set a wonderful example across the whole of South-East Asia and beyond."
SAUDI ARABIA: "Aceh Deal"
The English-language pro-government Arab News held (7/19): "Like anything newborn, peace deals start life fragile and vulnerable. However ardently peace may have been wished for in times of bloodshed and destruction, the moment it arrives it is greeted with fear and suspicion.... Hopes are the more guarded because a similar deal three years ago fell apart after five months. This time however it seems that the outcome may be different.... Governments in Jakarta, aware of the complex ethnic mix of the whole of their country, preferred to clamp down rather than negotiate, which they saw as a sign of weakness, likely to encourage rather than dampen the revolt. Matters have been further complicated by the existence of onshore natural gas and offshore oil reserves.... Now Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has put his personal authority behind an agreement designed to find a peaceful political solution.... There are still elements in Indonesia’s powerful armed forces that believe the revolt can still be broken militarily. It is of course the tragedy of the tsunami that has made this accord possible. The resolute action of the Jakarta authorities in the wake of December’s catastrophe caused the people of Aceh to reconsider their relations with them. By and large the reaction of all Indonesians to the disaster that had befallen the northern tip of Sumatra was fulsome and generous. An uneasy truce was agreed between GAM rebels and government troops. At a time of such overwhelming tragedy, differences however deeply held, were put aside in a decent human response.... As a result, when Aceh began the long road to recovery...both sides were prepared to re-explore the options for peace. The Helsinki peace deal still faces many dangers but the longer it holds, the greater will be the rebuilding of trust and confidence on both sides."
QATAR: "Tsunami Diplomacy Brings Peace To Aceh"
The English-language semi-official Gulf Times declared (7/18): "The tsunami disaster that hit South Asia...has had unexpected political consequences in Indonesia, where it has acted as a catalyst for peace talks about Aceh.... The tragedy prompted the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government to return to peace talks in Helsinki and last night agreement was finally reached on a formula to end the conflict.... Agreement became possible after GAM dropped its demand for the energy-rich province to be made an independent state...something that no Indonesian government was willing to accept. The peace deal, which requires rebel disarmament, troop withdrawal, truce monitoring and the reintegration of former rebels into society, will also allow GAM to become a national political party and, eventually, a local party. This compromise will allow the people of Aceh to benefit to the maximum from vital central government services.... The toughest test of the willingness of the two sides to be fully reconciled will come at the beginning of the truce, as there is a reservoir of distrust.... However, the people of Aceh have more important things than politics to worry about these days so the spirit of co-operation should be able to flourish. Now that GAM has put aside its separatist demands...the Indonesian authorities should not fear the formation of a regional political party, a key element of the peace deal. Many democracies have regionally-based minority parties which play a positive role in promoting the rights and interests of their supporters without posing any danger to national unity. We hope that the good news from Helsinki will help to facilitate the physical rebuilding in Aceh and the building of a sense of national belonging among its people that will ensure a peaceful and prosperous future."
INDIA: "Jakarta To Firm Up Aceh Deal"
P. S. Suryanarayana noted in the centrist Hindu (7/19): "Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other political leaders in Jakarta have expressed resolve to firm up the peace accord with the 'Free Aceh Movement' (GAM).... Yudhoyono is understood to have emphasised his willingness to guarantee the GAM's political rights on the basis of a firm undertaking by it to abandon its agenda of independence.... Given that the Indonesian laws provide for the existence of only provincial-level branches of national political parties, any special permission for the GAM, which does not command a following outside Aceh, will require parliamentary approval on the national stage. The GAM is keen on securing a special status within Aceh.... Another suggestion is that the GAM candidates could even contest elections as 'independents,' but the party is eager to assert its distinctiveness. With the tsunami of December 2004 having altered the political dynamics in Aceh province, the accord was fashioned as a result of international facilitation of a peace process."
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