I suggested a couple of days ago that malicious militias in Aceh need to be curbed if the historic peace pact between GAM, the Free Aceh Movement, and the government of Indonesia is to hold.
I can't claim prescience and neither can John Aglionby
who has been reporting for the Guardian from there for the past six years.Much will depend on the political resolve of the two sides' leaders. The chances of this agreement succeeding and not disintegrating completely or collapsing into a state of pseudo-anarchy akin to that in the southern Philippines are therefore slim.
But they are infinitely better than on any of the previous occasions when Gam and Jakarta have tried to end the insurgency. Both sides are showing unprecedented public determination to succeed; the impact of the tsunami and consequent presence of huge sums of aid money cannot be overstated; the quality of the monitors is superior to past missions and, most crucially, a political deal has been struck before any guns are surrendered or troops withdrawn.
My experience of reporting from Aceh over the last six years makes me think the barriers to success are too great to overcome. But I was not expecting the negotiations to reach an agreement and Aceh's capacity to surprise is extraordinary. I look forward to being proved wrong.
Indonesian commanders have thousands of recently-disbanded civilian militiamen at their disposal to mobilise as and when they might be needed. Arrayed against them are numerous criminal elements who GAM could easily co-opt to do their dirty work.
I'm sure John is as dismayed as I am to know that plainclothes police threatened rebels who were released from the Jantho penitentiary in Aceh Besar regency.
One of the officers took a picture of a GAM prisoner, Jamal, near a rebel flag inside his cell, while two others pulled out and brandished their handguns at the departing prisoners.
Jamal is among 48 GAM inmates imprisoned in Jantho who received remissions on their sentences in conjunction with the independence anniversary. He was immediately free thanks to the sentence cut.
The presence of militia groups is also deferring the return of Acehnese exiles, many of whom have beren involved in the recent peace talks.Shadia, the wife of American activist and freelance journalist William Nessen, has been living in the U.S. since 2003 and is active in the Aceh campaign across the country as well as other nations.
She said, "I have learned there are still militiamen roaming around Aceh, and this is not right. This is what continues to cause me worry, even though the peace agreement has been signed. I am sure my family and relatives and the province of four million people are also worried about that."
In its press release dated Aug. 14, the day before the MOU's signing, GAM quoted a leaked TNI intelligence document as saying that there were nine militia organizations in Aceh with some 10,000 active members who vowed to kill GAM members after they were disarmed.
The military command (TNI) naturally deny the presence of 'proxy militiamen'.
Still, it is nice to know that foreign governments have some faith that the peace pact has validity.Papua New Guinea's foreign minister called on pro-independence rebels in the neighboring Indonesian province of West Papua on Thursday to seek an autonomy arrangement similar to that reached this week between Jakarta and separatists in Aceh.
Good luck with that process.