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EU to Send Peace Monitors to Aceh

The EU is sending a peace monitoring mission to Asia for the first time to observe a pact to end decades of civil war in Indonesia's Aceh province. But their mandate is still unclear.

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Disarmament and a withdrawal of troops should bring peace to Aceh

Around 100 unarmed military and civilian officials from the European Union will monitor the implementation of a peace pact between the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM). They will be joined by an equal number of monitors from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Indonesia and GAM tentatively reached a deal on July 17 to end almost 30 years of war, in which close to 15,000 people have died. Their pact includes the disarmament of rebels and a troop withdrawal from Aceh.

The pact is due to be signed on August 15 in Helsinki -- two days before the 60th anniversary of Indonesian independence. A 28-strong team of European and Southeast Asian officials visited Banda Aceh this week to make logistical preparations for the monitoring mission, which could begin shortly after the pact is signed.

But the mission has so far only been defined in general terms. A protocol of measures to take should the pact be violated has not been agreed on, nor has the length of the mission. These and other details are expected to be addressed in the coming weeks.

No reconstruction without peace

Banda Aceh, Äußerungen des Schocks in Graffiti

A local volunteer walks past a wall graffiti 'Good By(e) Banda Aceh' on a shop shutter in January in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Aceh was particularly hard hit by last December's tsunami, and one could expect that the vast amount of reconstruction work still to be done might take precedence over the peace accord. But the former EU representative in Jakarta, Ana Maria Gomes, said the accord can't wait.

"We're of the opinion that it's only through an acceleration of the peace process that the reconstruction process can really begin to move forward," Gomes said. "We're offering our support for the peace process, and we'll try to accommodate the wishes of the Indonesian government."

However, it's questionable whether all the wishes of the Indonesian side can really be fulfilled. Indonesia's military chief, Endriartono Sutarto, has requested that soldiers should be included among the monitors, in order to be able to react immediately should an emergency arise. The EU framework, though, expressly excludes a military component from this type of mission.

Risk of failure

Wahlen in Indonesien Moschee Baiturrahman

Two soldiers guard the Baiturrahman mosque on election day, in Sept. 2004, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Generally the impression from Jakarta is that it's not overly keen to see the start of the international mission. There's considerable danger that not only GAM hardliners, but also those within the Indonesian military, could quickly foil the aims of the peace mission. It wouldn't be the first time: In 2002, a dozen observers from Thailand and the Philippines watched over a short-lived truce that ended as the spiral of violence grew out of control.

The hope this time is that the aftermath of the devastating tsunami in Indonesia will be enough to convince both sides in the Aceh conflict to give peace -- and reconstruction -- a chance.

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