Maintaining Peace with Civilian Participation: Aceh’s Experience

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This paper examines the role of civilian participation in Post-Helsinki Aceh. In terms of local, national, and international cooperation, the case of Aceh in the restoration period after a long asymmetric conflict was an unprecedented success as a whole. This is partly due to active participation of all stakeholders to the peace building process supporting to implement the unfinished key provisions contained the Memorandum of Understanding.


This paper examines the role of civilian participation and its significance in the maintenance of peace in Aceh after long-standing warfare. The role of comprehensive peace agreement, the so-called The Helsinki Accord, and participation towards peace will be examined through the case of Aceh from 2006 onwards.

First, I would like to begin with the brief background of the conflict. Then, outline the phases of peace process in Aceh. Thirdly, the post-conflict reconstruction efforts and the role of both political and civilian participation will be conducted. Finally, based on the role of civilian participation, I try to draw some few lessons taken from the case of Aceh where people participation can also significantly contribute to the economic development of the region.

Background of the Issue

Aceh is an Indonesian province located at the northern tip of Sumatra Island, at the westernmost of the Indonesian archipelago. Since Indonesia’s independence in August 1945, the province of Aceh has often been described as a centre of resistance against the central government in Jakarta. Conflict in Aceh had continued for more than five decades.  It is a conflict prolonged by unresolved structural causes that cannot be won militarily.

The conflict was initiated by the Darul Islam (DI) uprising in 1953, demanded the establishment of an Islamic state of Indonesia. However, the DI rebellion lasted in 1961 after the promise of the GoI to give a special autonomy status for Aceh. But the conflict again came up when the region and the promise were neglected. As a result, another insurgency emerged in 1967, in the form of freedom movement led by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) that directly challenged the territorial integrity of the country.

This conflict between the Government of Indonesia (GoI) and the GAM had continued for 38 years in the midst of a dangerous social crisis, a serious humanitarian and human rights situations, a national condition that favours the use of force, and a growing process of fragmentation in Aceh society. Without the kind of media recognition given to conflicts such as those in Northern Ireland or the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, and lacking the charismatic leadership of someone like the Dalai Lama or international champions such as Australia, Portugal and the UN for East Timor, Aceh has nonetheless been embroiled in a violent conflict for decades.[1]

Given the lacks of central government in solving the prolonged conflict and the cruel military repression with the establishment of the Military Operations Zones (DOM) until 1998, there are some problems need to be assessed. Conflict analysis finds ethnicity as one of several cleavages in Aceh society. Above all, the causes of Aceh conflict are manifold, Rizal Sukma depicted that root causes of conflict in Aceh can be grouped into four basic aspects: economic exploitation, centralism and uniformity, military repression, and the politics of impunity.[2]

In May 2000, a “Humanitarian Pause” agreement facilitated by the Henry Dunant Centre, an International NGO, was reached between the GoI and the GAM to begin peace process. For a short moment, the agreement was able to reduce the intensity of conflict, but it eventually collapsed. The conflict had once again broken up following the next peace agreement, the so-called “Cessation of Hostilities Agreement/COHA” in December 2002.

Tsunami calamity that hit the region in December 2004, offers an opportunity for Acehnese to break out of the conflict that has characterized its political and social life since eight years after independence. Unlike the two peace attempts, the signing of the Helsinki Peace Accord in August 2005 appeared to have a better opportunity to bring an end to the conflict. The most important factor here is the commitment and the capability of all stakeholders of peace – the central government of Indonesia, Aceh government, former GAM members, political and religious leaders, civil society, business community, and ordinary citizens – to support the post-conflict reconstruction process.

Thus, compared to other similar cases, the Helsinki Peace Accord and peace process in Aceh ended on a successful note. Among the factors that enabled Acehnese to achieve successful results were:

  1. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aims at achieving a comprehensive political solution to the conflict.
  2. The signatories to the MoU utilized the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Re-integration (DDR) as an integrated framework for the peace process.
  3. The MoU addresses a wide range of issues; legal issues, governance, Aceh’s status, economic incentives, political participation, human rights, and reconciliation.
  4. It provides for the mechanism for implementation.[3]

In October 2005, shortly after the signing of the MoU, the DDR process had been easily implemented without major obstacles supervised by the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM), which monitored by 220 monitors from ASEAN and the European Union (EU).[4] By April 2006, through Presidential Decree No. 2/2005, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi or BRR) was established to ensure the political participation for the former GAM combatants. The MoU clearly stipulates that the former GAM members were to be allowed to participate in the BRR. As the holder of reconstruction mandate, BRR has a major role in managing post-conflict reconstruction process.

The role of the community-driven World Bank’s program, known as Kecamatan Development Program/KDP by Aceh Reintegration Agency/BRA was also becoming a good start to smoothly execute the peace process. Regulated by gubernatorial decree and directed by Indonesia’s National Development Agency (Bappenas), BRA focused its program on improving the socio-economic situation of the former combatants and victims of the conflict on an individual needs assessment.[5]

Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Reintegration Process

In this paper, I refer the term post-conflict reconstruction or peace building to Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s ‘An Agenda for Peace’, which describes peace building as a process of recreation of a condition that would prevent the recurrence of conflict in the future and facilitating the establishment of durable peace.[6] And by Johan Galtung, who describes post-conflict reconstruction as an attempt to remove causes of conflict and offering alternatives to conflict in situations where conflicts might occur by eliciting indigenous capacities for peaceful management and resolution of conflict.[7]

In the case of Aceh, the following four points can be identified as some challenges and heedful points, which must be reflected upon for effectively conducting post-conflict reconstruction programmes: (1) Implementing the unfinished key provisions contained in the MoU. (2) The Reintegration Process. (3) Participation in peace building process. (4) Post Conflict Development Initiatives by Local Government.

In tandem with the earthquake measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale and the tsunami disaster hitting the region, post-conflict Aceh showed an unexpected view, where a number of volunteers, both local and international, suddenly came to the region. According to the World Bank Report in 2005, there were 250 NGOs from 50 countries operating in Aceh and North Sumatra.

Shortly after the signing of the peace accord, the first challenge that had to be faced was the process of reintegration. The process of reintegration is indeed a very challenging process in most conflict situations that requires economic incentives, facilitation, and provisions for jobs to the former combatants. As in the case of Aceh, there were more than 3000 ex-combatants, who surrendered their weapons soon after the peace agreement were unemployed. It is critical in the peace process to ensure their subsistence, for the lack of jobs and opportunities can have a critical bearing on the probability of recurrence of conflict. Apart from that, the process of reintegration also requires participation from all stakeholders to the peace process.

Similar to the case of peace building in Cambodia in 1990, where the International Committee on Reconstruction of Cambodia (ICORC) conducted a distinct method of assistance, the so-called “the continuum of effective aids,”[8] Aceh peace program also posited reintegration process, conducted under BRA, in the middle phase between humanitarian and emergency aid, and rehabilitation and reconstruction aid. Fortunately, the acceptance by the Aceh communities of the returning ex-combatants to the society has been very high, made the reintegration process could be easily implemented.

However, the success of the process of reintegration of former GAM combatants into the Acehnese society was highly influenced by the comprehensive manner of the MoU. Rizal Sukma depicts some key features of its provisions as follows; first, the GoI agrees to provide economic incentives and facilitation to former GAM combatants and pardoned political prisoners, including the provisions for jobs. Second, the GoI also promised to restore the political rights of former GAM members, including the granting of amnesty to all persons who have participated in GAM activities, the release of GAM prisoners, and, more importantly, the right to political participation and the right to establish local political parties that meets national criteria. Third, former GAM combatants would also be allowed “to seek employment in the organic police and organic military forces in Aceh without discrimination.[9]

Participation in Peace Building Process

In many areas of conflict, a post-conflict agreement is mostly characterized by deadlock, even when peace is attained, the area is still faced with many problems of public disorder and political instability. This situation also occurred in Aceh in its previous two peace agreements attempts. But it is not the case in post-Helsinki Aceh. The comprehensive manner of the MoU, however, allowed the peace building process to smoothly execute its tasks, even after one year of the implementation of the MoU peace in Aceh was still there.

The environment of peace achieved its height after the conclusion of peaceful provincial election on 11 December 2006. For GAM, its decision in Helsinki to transform itself from an armed insurgency group into a political force within the Republic of Indonesia began to pay off when many former GAM leaders, including the candidate for governor Irwandi Yusuf, won the local elections. For the Government of Indonesia, the fruit of political settlement to the conflict was evident when Irwandi Yusuf and Muhammad Nazar officially took the oath as the new Governor and Vice-Governor of NAD Province on 8 February 2007, pledging allegiance to the Republic of Indonesia.[10] This condition creates a positive impact in the assurance of the second provisions to the MoU that is restoration of the political rights of former GAM members. Moreover, the establishment of a legitimate government is vital to unite people together and to engage in economic development activities.

Various civil societies also have made significant efforts in peace building process, largely in forms of critical education to increase civilian awareness and trust in the contents of the MoU, and in the political process, including election, to be participated. Another significant project was conducted by Fauna Flora International branch of Aceh through Aceh Green programme, in collaboration with the elected local government. This local government programme was significant in that it institutes a strategy of economic development, especially to ensure provisions for jobs to the former combatants.

For many decades, the vast jungle interior of Aceh provided a save place for thousands of GAM combatants fighting a war for independence. Even after the signing of the MoU many of them were still marginalized and unemployed, and many of them had fled back into the forest. Collaborated jointly with the Fauna Flora Indonesia, one of the oldest international environmental groups in Aceh, local government provided an answer by making former combatants as forest rangers. Through Aceh Green program, Fauna and Flora International trained hundreds of former rebels as forest rangers. Its primary aim was to integrate former combatants into society and create jobs.

The new rangers trek through the woods, armed with compasses and climbing rope, on the lookout for illegal loggers in Ulu Masen, a jungle within Aceh. They act as an independent group supplementing an existing but small forest police force — their former adversaries. Aceh Green was the idea of Irwandi Yusuf, the elected governor of Aceh and the founder of Fauna and Flora International branch in Aceh. He presented the program at the U.N. Climate Change in Bali in 2007, where he declared that he intended to make Aceh as a worldwide model of sustainability.

As a result, in February 2008, Ulu Masen became the first forest to be internationally recognized as protected under the U.N. program called REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. The system allows rich countries to offset their carbon output by paying covered-vast jungle countries to preserve their forests. Successfully, the project could net Aceh an estimated $26 million in carbon credits if it can successfully protect the entire 1.9-million-acre Ulu Masen jungle.[11]


The great challenge for peace process in Aceh is how to support the positive factors by handling the problems that could bring the peace agreement to fail. To realize the reconstruction process through everlasting peace, it is important after the peace agreement to facilitate the reintegration of ex-combatants from an early stage and to establish a legitimate government through open elections and ensure their political participation. This legitimate government is again vital to unite people together and to engage in economic development activities.

In addition, there are few important lessons to be drawn from Aceh peace participation process. First is that a peace process would have a better chance of success if parties to the conflict agree to focus on peace incentives and confidence and trust building. Secondly, the new creative approaches to peace building are significant aspects for without such creativity, the prospect for peace in Aceh would have been bleak.


Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. 1995. An Agenda for Peace. New York: UN

Davis, Matthew N. 2006. Indonesia’s War over Aceh: Last Stand on Mecca’s Porch. London: Routledge

Sukma, Rizal. 2004. Security Operations in Aceh: Goals, Consequences, and Lessons. Washington: Policy Studies – East West Centre

World Bank. 2005. Rebuilding a Better Aceh and Nias. World Bank Report on Aceh Reconstruction, News Release No. 535/EAP, June 25, 2005.

Aguswandi and Judith Large (ed.). 2008. “Reconfiguring Politics: the Indonesia – Aceh Peace Process.” London: Accord Conciliation Resources No. 20

Shie, Tamara Renee. 2003. “Disarming for Peace in Aceh: Lessons Learned.” California: Monterey Institute of International Studies

Sukma, Rizal. 2007. “Managing Peace in Aceh: The Challenge of Post-Conflict Peace Building.” Indonesia: CSIS

Takahashi, Katsuhide. 2004. “Role of Reconstruction Assistance in the Developing Countries after Warfare.” Kobe University Economic Review No. 50

Tjhin, Cristine Susanna. 2005. “Post-Tsunami Reconstruction and Peace Building in Aceh: Political Impacts and Potential Risks.” Indonesia: CSIS No. 53

International Crisis Group Briefing. 2005. “Aceh: A New Chance for Peace.” Brussels: ICG No. 40

Gelling, Peter, ‘Recasting Rebels as Forest Rangers.’ The Hindu Newspaper: March 7, 2010.

[1] Tamara Renee Shie. ‘Disarming for Peace in Aceh: Lessons Learned’. (California: Monterey Institute of International Studies, 2003) pp. 3

[2] Rizal Sukma, Security Operations in Aceh: Goals, Consequences, and Lessons. (Washington: Policy Studies – East West Centre, 2004) pp.3

[3] Rizal Sukma. ‘Managing Peace in Aceh: The Challenge of Post-Conflict Peace Building.’ (Indonesia: CSIS, 2007) pp. 4

[4] International Crisis Group Briefing. ‘Aceh: A New Chance for Peace’ (Brussels: ICG No. 40, 2005)

[5] Aguswandi and Judith Large (ed.), ‘Reconfiguring Politics: the Indonesia – Aceh Peace Process’, (London: Accord Conciliation Resources, 20/2008), pp. 55

[6] Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace, (New York: UN, 1995)

[7] Johan Galtung (ed), Peace, War, and Defence: Essays in Peace Research, Vol. II, (Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers: 1976), pp. 298

[8] Katsuhide Takahashi, ‘Role of Reconstruction Assistance in the Developing Countries after Warfare’, (Kobe University Economic Review: 2004), pp. 90

[9] Rizal Sukma. ‘Managing Peace in Aceh: The Challenge of Post-Conflict Peace Building.’ (Indonesia: CSIS, 2007) pp. 5

[10] Ibid, pp. 2

[11] Peter Gelling, ‘Recasting Rebels as Forest Rangers’, the Hindu Newspaper: March 7, 2010.


~ by zulkhanip on December 16, 2011.

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