By Pizaro Gozali Idrus
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AA) - "Happy 14th Aceh Peace Day. Peace Towards Great and Prosperous Aceh", read a banner displayed in a billboard on the streets of Banda Aceh City.
The billboard, from Tuesday's celebrations, was installed by the Government of Aceh to celebrate 14 years of peace since the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in Finland.
For the people of Aceh, the signing of the MoU is a valuable moment in their history as it established peace between the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Government of the Republic of Indonesia.
In 2005, the two parties agreed to make peace after 30 years of conflict.
Indonesia was represented by Law and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaludin, while GAM sent Malik Mahmud Al Haytar to sign the Helsinki MoU.
Zaini Abdullah, 79, one of the Aceh community leaders involved in the peace process, said he remembers the moment when the agreement was formulated.
According to Abdullah, the peace agreement was planned to be signed in Geneva and Tokyo in 2003, but the efforts always failed.
The peace between GAM and the government, he added, was finally established in Helsinki with the efforts of Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla in 2005.
Kalla requested former Finnish President Marti Ahtisari to be a mediator.
"Marti Ahtisari has initiated a lot of peace efforts internationally," Abdullah, a former foreign minister of GAM, told Anadolu Agency at his residence in Banda Aceh, Tuesday morning.
He said the peace process at that time happened faster than in previous periods as it started in January and ended with a deal in August.
"So, it was only eight months. We both wanted peace," said Abdullah, who worked as a medical doctor in Sweden in 1982-2005.
One of the factors that accelerated the peace process was the great tsunami that hit Aceh in 2004.
After the tsunami, Indonesian government and GAM were moved to finally meet and seriously constitute the peace agreement, he said.
Abdullah added that he was grateful that the peace was successfully established to bring the war to an end and let people live in peace.
- Remaining problems
Abdullah called for government’s commitment in enforcing the points that have not been implemented, such as symbols, flags and hymns.
He said the Aceh flag does not have to be exactly the same as the separatist movement’s flag.
"It just needs to be slightly changed from the previous GAM flag," added Abdullah.
In addition, he suggested the central government to hold more talks with the people of Aceh.
Abdullah also asked the Aceh provincial administration to impose moratorium on mining business licenses like he did when he served as governor in 2012-2017.
He said the policy was made to save the forests and land of Aceh from the irresponsible hands.
During his tenure, Abdullah cut the number of business permits from 138 covering an area of 841 thousand hectares (2 million acres) to 37 permits for 156 thousand hectares (385 thousand acres).
"We have to give time for Aceh's human resources to be able to manage their own mines," he said.
In response to a question about his position on the possible referendum proposal, Abdullah said he would disagree with the idea.
"The referendum means we return to zero," he added.
Abdullah stressed that he saw disappointment from the people of Aceh as some points in Helsinki agreement has not been fully implemented.
"The Indonesian government has to catch this as a message," he said.
This June, the Aceh House of Representatives formed a study and advocacy team to look into the Law of the Government of Aceh and the points of peace between Indonesia and GAM.
The team was assigned to look into Aceh's authority and income.
Azhari Cage, a member of parliament, explained the purpose of the team was to establish a meeting point for the Helsinki MoU results and the agrarian law.
According to him, only three points from the MoU have been implemented, including special autonomy, local party and the Nanggroe regent institution.
Meanwhile, other points such as flag, symbols, distribution of income from oil and gas, and territorial boundaries have not been implemented.
- Internal challenges
Saifuddin Bantasyam, legal expert and political observer from Syiah Kuala University, said that the unimplemented points of the Helsinki MoU are not the main factors hampering the development of Aceh.
He said those challenges are internal affairs that made the pace of Aceh’s economic growth remain stuck.
Based on data from the Central Statistics Bureau, Aceh remains the poorest province in Sumatra with impoverished people in Tanah Rencong currently reached 831,000 people or 15.68% of the total population of Aceh.
The expert assured that the special autonomy in Aceh can be optimized to reduce poverty and unemployment.
The central government has allocated a Special Autonomy budget for Aceh, totaling $5.2 billion (73.83 trillion rupees), according to the Office of Regional People's Representative Council of Aceh data of 2008-2019.
Meanwhile, in 2019 alone, the central government allocates special autonomy funds amounted to $590 million (8.37 trillion rupees) for Aceh Province.
"So, although the funds have been disbursed, the problems remain there," Bantasyam explained to Anadolu Agency.
This situation occurred as Acehnese were too preoccupied with political activities so they did not really pay attention to development.
He noted that there have been at least six elections since the agreement was signed, which depleted the performance of both Aceh’s executive and legislative.
The development plans from the Regional Development Planning Agency could not be implemented optimally at any levels.
Bantasyam said political race in Aceh has made the legislative body unable to carry out its supervision and budgeting functions.
Aceh needs time to recover as solving problems in the conflict zone is not as easy as turning the palm of the hand, he added.
The expert also said the simultaneous local elections every five years is one of many ways to conclude strategic development plans.