Optimistic Aceh priest hopes peace accord will end conflict

The parish priest of Aceh province's only Catholic parish has said he hopes the peace deal signed by the Indonesian government and separatist rebels can be implemented after several decades of violent conflict.

Cathoilc News Service reports that Indonesia's chief negotiator, Minister of Justice and Human Rights Hamid Awaluddin, and Malik Mahmud, the exiled leader of the Free Aceh Movement, signed the treaty on Monday in Helsinki.

The agreement ended a three-decade conflict that has taken an estimated 15,000 mostly civilian lives in the oil-rich province.

"Many Aceh people believe peace will come," Franciscan Fr Ferdinando Severi, parish priest of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Banda Aceh, said. "They enthusiastically and happily welcomed it with public prayers and a ... parade, shouting 'Peace, peace, peace.'"

Fr Severi, who has served in Aceh since 1991, expressed some caution about the peace accord.

"We Aceh people fully support the peace deal, but we hope both sides will honestly and transparently implement it," he said, noting that some factions of the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, do not agree with the terms.

The priest also said he regrets that the peace accord said nothing about peace, "yet the main purpose of meetings held thus far has been peace."

Fr Severi said Aceh residents always pray for peace "because we, all Aceh people, really yearn for peace in the wake of the natural disaster -- earthquake and tsunami -- that destroyed our lives" late last year.

Under the accord, Free Aceh Movement rebels gave up their demand for independence and agreed to give up their weapons and integrate into civil society. In return, the Indonesian government offered amnesty for rebel political prisoners, economic compensation and the opportunity to create political parties in the province. The government also agreed to withdraw the central government's army and police forces and to leave local security forces in charge. It also agreed on formation of a human-rights court and a truth and reconciliation commission.

Military and civilian officials from the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are to monitor implementation of the deal, concluded after seven months of negotiations.

Priest in Aceh says he hopes peace accord can end decades of conflict (Catholic News Service 16/8/05)

Indonesian Jesuit says foreigners must not leave Aceh (CathNews 23/3/05)
Concern mounts for Aceh as Indonesia launches military offensive (CathNews 21/5/03)
Jesuit Refugee Service fears martial law in Aceh (CathNews 9/7/02)
Aceh Christians become more united as Shari'a is implemented in Aceh (CathNews 19/4/02)

Yudhoyono defends foreign monitors (Sydney Morning Herald 17/8/05)
Kofi Annan Praises Indonesian Peace Accord (All Headline News 16/8/05)
Aceh rebels sign peace pact (Peace Journalism 16/8/05)
Ministry of Defence to explain double status of TNI personnel to AMM (Antara 16/8/05)
Aceh: A new chance for peace (Reuters 16/8/05)
Aceh: all proceeding for signing of peace accord (Catholic Online.MISNA 4/8/05)

17 Aug 2005