People in the formerly restive province of Aceh celebrated news Saturday that the man who helped end their decades-long civil war has won the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize – annonuced i Oslo, Norway.
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari – honored for efforts to resolve conflicts in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East – helped bring together the Indonesian government and leaders of Aceh’s separatist guerrilla movement.
The two sides signed an agreement to end fighting in 2005.
“We’re all very excited about the news,” said Oki Tiba, 25, whose father was jailed for taking part in peace negotiations and then died when the 2004 tsunami crashed into the province, sweeping away everything in its path, including the main prison.
“Martti helped bring an end to fighting .. it’s now up to us to secure the peace.”
Aceh, an oil- and gas-rich province of 4 million people on Sumatra island’s northern tip, had known almost constant warfare for more than 140 years, with at least 15,000 people killed in the last round of fighting, which began in 1976.
Many of those who died were civilians caught up in army sweeps of remote villages.
As part of the Helsinki deal, the rebels gave up their long-held demand for independence and handed over all of their weapons. In exchange, the government allowed them to participate in local politics.
Umar Abduh, 44, said he and others were proud and happy to learn that the prize had gone to Martti.
“He played a great role in bringing peace to Aceh,” the local government worker said. “We can now enjoy our lives instead of living in fear.”
The Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami that claimed more than 170,000 lives in Aceh alone also helped speed an end to the fighting, with the government and separatists both saying they did not want to add to the suffering.