For almost 30 years the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Aceh province has been waging a guerilla war against the regime of the Indonesian government.
The separatist war started in 1976. Since then over 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict. Previous peace negotiations were facilitated by the Swiss NGO Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HDC) in 2000 which let to the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in December 2002. However, the process broke down in May 2003.
Then in January this year, the negotiations were re-opened by the Finnish former President Martti Ahtisaari. His efforts came in the wake of the massive earthquake which triggered the tsunami on 26 December 2004 and destroyed many parts of Aceh.
The Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) – an institution established by Ahtisaari himself – was asked to facilitate talks between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Knowing the odds for success were small, Martti Ahtisaari never the less took on the enormous task of bringing the parties together. And on 15 August 2005 his efforts resulted in the historic signing of the Indonesia-GAM peace agreement in Helsinki.
The End of the War
The first round of talks took place on 27-29 January 2005 in Helsinki. The second round of talks took place on 21-23 February, the third round on 12-16 April and the fourth on 26-31 May.
In between the fourth and fifth rounds, CMI prepared a draft Memorandum of Understanding, which formed the basis of discussion during the fifth round.
The fifth round of negotiations was held on 12-17 July 2005. They finally announced its success with the Memorandum of Understanding to end the conflict.
On 17 July, the fifth round talk between Indonesian government and GAM was held in Helsinki, Finland. The two sides had approved a peace agreement and the deal was signed on 15 August.
Under the deal, Indonesian army troops deployed to Aceh will be cut from 35,000 to 13,000 and the number of police will be reduced from 15,000 to 10,000. That will leave 23,000 Indonesian security forces in the province. The Indonesian government says it will begin with drawing troops from Aceh province in September.
The reductions are to be overseen by about 250 European Union observers and at least 100 monitors from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Tsunami: Disaster leads to Peace
Aceh was the closest point of land to the epicenter of the massive 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which triggered the tsunami that devastated the western coast of the region, including the capital of Banda Aceh.
The western coastal areas of Aceh, including the cities of Banda Aceh, Calang, and Meulaboh, were among the areas hardest-hit by the tsunami.
While parts of Banda Aceh, the capital, were unscathed, the areas closest to the water were completely destroyed. Most of the western coast, and outlying islands, were severely damaged, and many towns were said to have completely disappeared.
The peace process was restarted immediately after the tsunami, when both the Indonesian administration and the Aceh government-in-exile in Sweden came under intense international pressure to end the long-running war.
Prior to the tsunami, the province had been a closed military area. But thousands of foreign troops and relief workers were allowed in, to provide aid and help rebuild the province following the disaster.
CMI: The Active Mediator
CMI is an independent, non-governmental organization which was founded by Martti Ahtisaari. CMI aims to enhance the crisis prevention, active crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation capacity of the international community.
Additionally, CMI seeks solutions to global problems through strengthening democratic practices and through a firm commitment to equitable development. In preventing conflicts CMI seeks to get acquainted with their causes and to act for their mitigation through various initiatives and projects. Through these initiatives CMI seeks practical and implementable solutions.
History of the war
Aceh is a special territory of Indonesia, located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. The population of Aceh is estimated at 4.01 million, almost two percent of the Indonesian population.
Aceh has a long history of economic and cultural roots resistance to control by outside forces; since Indonesian independence, this has meant resistance to control by the national government in Jakarta. This resistance has both.
Many Aceh people feel that most of the economic benefits of the region’s great natural resources, especially oil, leave the region and benefit the Jakarta government and foreign corporations instead of the local area. Aceh possesses one of Indonesia’s largest reserves of oil and natural gas. A number of multinational corporations, such as Exxon Mobil, maintain a presence in Aceh.
This dissatisfaction has led to a long-running push in the province for greater autonomy, or complete separation, led by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
The Free Aceh Movement has been fighting for independence for Aceh since 1976.
In May 2003, the army launched a major offensive against the rebels after a short-lived truce and peace talks collapsed. More than 12,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since then.
In 2002 the separatists and the Indonesian government agreed on a peace plan. However it collapsed in early 2003 and the government imposed martial law and began a large-scale offensive in the region. In November 2003 the martial law was extended for a further six months.
According to the Human Rights, the Indonesian military committed widespread human rights abuses during the invasion and occupation, with more than 100,000 people being displaced in the first seven months of martial law and extra-judicial killings being common.
After the devastating tsunami in December 2004, both sides declared a cease-fire and reiterated the need to resolve the conflict. However, sporadic armed clashes continue to occur throughout the province. Ongoing talks held in Finland between GAM and the Indonesian Government in 2005 have resulted into peace agreement that would end long war in Aceh.