Helping Aceh's Other Disaster

Before the tsunami hit Indonesia's province of Aceh, that northern tip of Sumatra already had its own ongoing disaster: a decades-long conflict between thousands of pro-independence rebels and tens of thousands of Indonesian troops - with Aceh's 4.2 million civilians caught in the middle.

Soon after the Dec. 26 tsunami, both sides called a truce, allowing vital foreign aid to flow in. But now, Aceh is seeing a revival of both war moves and peace moves.

The peace moves need to be encouraged by the international community. To his credit, Indonesia's new president and former military general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, called in the ambassadors of six countries to seek advice on resolving the conflict. The six are home to representatives of the Free Aceh Movement, known by the acronym GAM.

That was a bold step on his part, and reflects his hope for a peaceful outcome - short of independence - for Aceh. But the military, which Mr. Yudhoyono may not fully control, has made moves to restrict the movements of foreign workers and reassert its presence in rural areas. And foreign military workers, mainly Australian and American, have been told to leave by the end of March. GAM rebels, too, are reportedly seeking an advantage for the post-aid period.

Ending the Aceh problem is essential to ending the military's propensity to violate human rights and to its influence over Indonesia's young democracy. Foreign nations must be careful not to be heavy-handed, but they can provide the ideas, means, and possibly mediation to end the conflict.

Indonesia won't receive the foreign investment it needs to get out of poverty unless its finally deals peacefully with its few remaining separatist conflicts such as Aceh.

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