The Free Aceh Movement (GAM), fought for Aceh’s independence from Indonesia for several decades. An estimated 15,000 lives were lost in its civil war with the Indonesian army. In 2005, the two sides signed a peace deal, the Helsinki Agreement. Three years later, as Indonesia prepares for parliamentary elections, the situation in the province is tense.
The Free Aceh Movement dissolved its armed wing after the 2005 Helsinki Agreement
Aceh has witnessed several shoot-outs in the past few weeks. Three former Free Aceh Movement fighters have been shot dead. There have also been several grenade attacks on the offices of political parties, especially the Aceh Party, which was created by former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) guerrillas when they disbanded their armed wing. One even targeted a UNICEF office in Banda Aceh but nobody was hurt.
International Crisis Group says that deep mistrust between GAM and the Indonesian army has been fuelling unrest in the run-up to this week’s elections. The army accuses GAM of not having changed its position and of continuing its independence struggle on the island of Sumatra despite the fact that this goes against the 2005 peace agreement.
GAM, for its part, claims the Indonesian army is responsible for various attacks on its members.
Internal friction in GAM
Sidney Jones, the head of International Crisis Group, says there is also internal friction within GAM: “We’re also beginning to see the emergence of small groups of ex-guerrillas who don’t agree with the peace process and who believe that there should be a return to armed struggle.”
“The total number of individuals in these groups is probably not more than 30 or 35 but these could be used to discredit the real GAM as we move towards the elections and there could be other activities that create tension.”
Additionally, there are “problems within the mainstream GAM over distribution of spoils basically: Who got money and who didn’t get money. We have problems between Jakarta and Banda Aceh in terms of power-sharing: How much authority is really going to be given to Aceh?”
“There are many indications that ministries like Home Affairs in Jakarta see Aceh as just another province in a way that completely goes against the spirit of the Helsinki Agreement of 2005.”
Aceh has unique election conditions
Aceh is the only one of Indonesia’s 33 provinces where local parties can compete for seats in the central parliament in Jakarta. This was agreed in the 2005 peace deal. Six local parties are competing with 33 national parties.
Sidney Jones thinks that the “likelihood is that the political party run by GAM will do quite well and will take control of some of the legislatures along the east coast. The government is quite nervous, particularly elements of the military intelligence services, that if GAM wins control legislatively it will move towards trying to gain independence through democratic means, for example by legislating a referendum.”
Although Jones doubts that this will happen, she says support for what used to be called “anti-GAM institutions” is growing.
Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has called on all sides to campaign peacefully in Aceh. Without peace, the reconstruction process after the tsunami of December 2004 would not have been possible, he has reiterated. He said this basis should not be destroyed.