Jakarta set to give Aceh more autonomy

Indonesia’s parliament is expected to approve today a law designed to meet the conditions of last year’s peace accord, by granting the province of Aceh greater autonomy.

The passage of the bill, almost four months later than called for in the signed deal, ostensibly clears the way for former members of the Free Aceh Movement, or Gam, to run in elections before the end of the year.

But has drawn protests in tsunami-racked Aceh, where critics argue it has watered down the level of autonomy envisaged in the accord signed in Helsinki between Jakarta and Gam leaders.

Munawar Liza Zain, a Gam spokesman, said yesterday the group would file a formal complaint with a European Union-led monitoring mission. A coalition of activists in Banda Aceh has also called for a half-day strike today to protest against the bill’s passage.

Under the Helsinki agreement, Gam agreed to disarm and end its 30-year pursuit of independence in exchange for a demobilisation of Indonesian troops and greater autonomy for the province.

However, Mr Zain said that in its final form, the law gave greater authority to the central government in Jakarta than envisioned in the Helsinki accord. He said it also gave the Indonesian military broader powers than outlined in the agreement and did away with the retroactive mandate of a special human rights tribunal.

Mr Zain said Gam would lodge a protest, in line with the process outlined in the Helsinki accord. “This rejection is not the end of everything,” he said. “It will not disturb the peace process.”

But if Gam goes ahead, the move could set off weeks or even months of further haggling, potentially further delaying the elections, which were originally due to take place in April. It would also put any final decision in the hands of Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president who brokered the Aceh peace deal, in a step analysts warned could raise prickly issues of sovereignty. “That mechanism isn’t going to work for this sort of issue,” said Sidney Jones, south-east Asia project director for the International Crisis Group and the author of two forthcoming reports on Aceh. “There is no way the Indonesian government is going to countenance someone on the outside interfering with Indonesian legislation,” she said.

Jüri Laas, a spokesman for the EU-led Aceh Monitoring Mission, said it would convene a meeting with Gam leaders and the government on Thursday to discuss objections to the law.

Additional reporting by Taufan Hidayat

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