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Peace is not an absence of War August 15, 2006

Posted by elizabethwong in Human Rights, International, Islam in Southeast Asia, Note2Self, Photography, Photojournalism, Southeast Asia.
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Today marks the first anniversary of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) and the Government of the Republic of Indonesia.Tens of thousands of people converged from all over the province to the capital city, Banda Aceh today at the Baitulrahman Mosque (picture above) to rally and pray for endless peace.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, was also in town, in another ceremony with former GAM combatants and officials from the Central government.

Although the special legislation for the province was recently passed by the People’s Legislative Assembly (DPR), there are some grievances which centred on some commitments which did not see the light of day, as stipulated in the MOU.

There were nonetheless great opposition from key political parties, including PDI-P, PKS and Golkar which claimed that the autonomy in the then bill amounted to a breakaway state. And the calm that followed was nothing short of remarkable. I was in Aceh at the time when the final handing-over of weapons were conducted and the last military tanks rolled out of the province.

“Peace is not an absence of war.” I learnt this from my friends from the National Democratic Front (NDF), Philippines. There are valid and legitimate reasons why people are compelled to take up arms. Think Sri Lanka. Mindanao. Even the US.

Victims of military abuse (Aceh, Indonesia) These villagers in Leuksomawe lived through the reign of terror. Scores disappeared or were killed. Homes razed to the ground. The men had to flee to Malaysia, leaving their families behind. Even livestock, such as cows and goats were forcibly taken by the Indonesian military. Most were too scared to even go to their fields, agriculture being their main source of income.

When I arrived at this village, I could still see the bullet holes on buildings and roof-tops. Some buildings were empty and craters remain caused by mortar shelling.

A crowd had gathered in the ‘centre’ of the village which was a small coffeeshop. As they told their stories, tears poured from the women’s eyes and the men quietly wiped theirs.

I was approached by a woman who wanted me to meet her young son. She asked for help to ‘cure’ him, but I was not a doctor.

The gravesite of my late friend Jafar was about an hour’s drive from this village.

Jaafar Siddiq Hamzah was in Kuala Lumpur around this time six years ago before he left for Medan. His mission was to set up a local branch of a human rights campaign group for Aceh, linking up the Acehnese diaspora. But he disappeared almost as soon as he arrived there and his body was found months later, was clearly tortured. The year before, he, together with some of us, had set up SCHRA in Bangkok, a solidarity group for human rights in Aceh.

As the prayers for peace continue all over Aceh tonight, the absence of gunshots in the air and rumbling military trucks, gives us a sense of what can be achieved with political will from Jakarta.

The next step is reclaiming justice for all Acehnese, especially the 15,000 who have disappeared or were killed.

And it begins with bringing the murderers of Jafar to justice.

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