Reporters on the Job

Aceh on the Mend : Staff writer Scott Baldauf was struck by the change in the political climate in Indonesia's Banda Aceh province, where a separatist uprising has given way to a peace process.

The last time he was in Banda Aceh, in June, he intended to do a story on the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels. "I finally managed to contact a GAM militant fighter who agreed to try to meet me in his village. But between the phone calls and the actual meeting, an Indonesian paramilitary police force had moved into his village and rounded up most of the local GAM fighters, including the militant's elderly relatives," says Scott.

"My militant escaped and went into hiding, in the provincial capital. He was hiding in the attic of some relatives - unbeknownst to those relatives, I might add. So it was a surprise during this latest visit to be able to meet GAM members in the outskirts of Banda itself, in broad daylight," he says.

But Scott says the men he spoke with had no illusions about their status. "The police had just released them from jail, and they could be picked up at any time. They were cautious about talking about their past. One man, Mohammad Jamil, admitted to being a GAM 'village coordinator,' and when I asked if he was also a combatant, he just smiled."

When Scott asked whether the tsunami had helped push GAM into the peace process, the man said simply: "The main reason the peace process started is because God wanted it. We can only do what God wants."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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