Banda Aceh. Having successfully negotiated for peace with the central government and overseen peaceful development over the past seven years, officials in Aceh believe they can help regional neighbors who are struggling with similar issues.
Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah and the province’s newly appointed cultural leader, Malik Mahmud Al Haythar, both of whom were high-level members of the now-defunct separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), made their case on Wednesday to visiting delegations from Pattani, in southern Thailand, and Moro, in the southern Philippines, both regions that are currently trying to quell long-running insurgencies led by Islamist groups.
“We managed to agree on a memorandum of understanding and achieve peace with the central government of Indonesia because we believe in democracy and peace,” Zaini said after the meeting with 20 delegates from Pattani and 18 from Moro.
In the event facilitated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Thai and Philippine delegations, comprising civil society activists, academics and officials, will spend four days in Banda Aceh.
After more than 30 years of fighting for independence, with more than 25,000 lives lost along the way, the GAM signed a historic peace agreement with Jakarta in Helsinki in 2005 to end the insurgency.
As part of the peace deal, the province of Aceh was allowed to enforce Islamic shariah law.
Zaini was a member of the GAM negotiating team, which was led by Malik.
“The MoU in Helsinki was a milestone, After the agreement, Aceh changed drastically,” Zaini said.
He attributed the successful implementation of the Helsinki Agreement to the strong commitment shown by both sides to bring peace to the province.
“The agreement is clear and there is no risk of the terms being misinterpreted. The Aceh Monitoring Mission independently assessed the progress of the implementation,” Zaini said.
He said that the GAM was amenable to the agreement because it also clearly stated that Aceh would have a special and expanded autonomy.
Both Pattani and Moro have for years been struggling to achieve a measure of autonomy from Bangkok and Manila respectively, with each conflict resulting in thousands of casualties.
According to Malik, the roots of such conflicts were perceptions of injustice by the central government against local communities.
“The most important aspect is building trust through peace negotiations,” he said. The Jakarta Globe