Indonesia's Aceh struggles to integrate former rebels fairly
As Indonesia's Aceh Province works to rebuild from decades of bloody battle - and a devastating tsunami - many analysts say feelings of injustice could wedge a new community divide.
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The 40-something farmer, whose rented house leaks when it rains, is clear that war would be a last resort – what he wants is justice. But the winner-take-all attitude displayed by many ex-combatants has made that goal increasingly onerous.Skip to next paragraph
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The spoils system
“The situation in Aceh is complicated,” says Fahrul Razi, a former academic and now key spokesman for Governor Abdullah.
During campaigning, Abdullah, a key negotiator in the Helsinki peace agreement, prioritized fully implementing the terms of that treaty. He also spoke of ensuring peace and economic development.
“The key to peace and development is economic programs,” says Mr. Razi, who fails to elaborate on what type of programs the new governor has planned but is eager to discuss how Yusuf’s favoritism and desire for personal enrichment have held back Aceh’s progress.
“Only 20 or 30 people close with [him] have benefited,” he says.
Yusuf, an Oregon-trained veterinarian who drives a Honda Prius – a rare sight in this impoverished province – gained popular support by implementing a health insurance program, and providing assistance in the form of school scholarships.
He also helped temper the KPA’s use of intimidation and extortion, but many of his confidants have won contracts for government development projects, such as bridge and road construction.
On the day before the recent election, a dozen of them gathered at his lavish home in Banda Aceh – Yusuf opted not to live in the governor’s residence. Dressed in button-up collared shirts and sporting gold rings and watches, they sipped coffee near a swimming pool hidden behind high walls.
“For the first two years I focused on them, on how to quell them, so any direct funds within my authority were mostly directed toward them,” says Yusuf, who explains that such assistance was needed as a way to ease their transition out of fighting.
'It should have come from the state'
Under the 2005 peace agreement, Jakarta agreed to set up a special autonomy budget that would be used to fund development and provide economic assistance to former combatants.
The GAM leadership at that time provided a list of 3,000 names to the Aceh Reintegration Board (BRA), the agency tasked with handing out reparations of $2,700 a piece to top-level GAM members. But its head, Hanif Asmara, estimates that as many as 40,000 people provided support to the rebels and deserve some type of assistance.
“All of them should get jobs and money,” says Mr. Asmara, who partially blames the KPA’s military-style structure for preventing the creation of a more equitable system that ensures all former rebels have legitimate employment.
Development programs have helped ease some tensions. Bahri, whose family owned a cocoa farm before the conflict, has received skills training from Swiss Contact, an organization focused on livelihood support. He now leads a group of 33 cocoa farmers and gives demonstrations to others on how to start planting. He says he does this out of a sense of solidarity with other ex-combatants.
If that unity holds it could bode well for Aceh, which currently has some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in Indonesia. Its port, built in part with donor money, is impressive but quiet. Most trade still goes through Medan, a 12-hour drive south of the capital Banda Aceh over narrow, winding roads. Agriculture is the only industry that has registered growth in a place rich with oil, gas and other natural resources.
The next few years will be a test of the local government’s staying power, says Aspinall. “The fact that these issues have not been resolved or are unlikely to be resolved adds an extra layer of delicacy,” he says
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