Joining a rebellion is not a typical career move. Yet up to 26,000 people in Indonesia spent years working for a separatist rebellion that lasted nearly 30 years in northern Sumatra. Children followed their parents into battlefields and war rooms. Sons went abroad for training. Upon leaving the force, a number received payment.
But any similarities with gainful employment end there.
In May 2003 Indonesia’s President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh to flush out the fighters, leading to a period of “extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and drastic limits on freedom of movement”, according to Human Rights Watch.
An estimated 15,000 lives (from both sides) were lost during the war, which caused nearly US$10 billion in damage – roughly twice that of the 2004 tsunami.
Shortly after the tsunami hit the archipelago (the epicentre of the earthquake causing the tsunami was just west of the conflict zone, which bore the heaviest death and damage toll from the tsunami in the region), the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) declared a ceasefire.
IRIN met four former rebels to learn where they are eight years after GAM signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the government that granted Aceh (now “Special Region of Aceh”) control over most areas of governance, excluding defence, foreign affairs and justice, among others.
The region is entitled to 70 percent of revenues from natural resources (land and sea). The peace deal pledged new local elections and identity cards. It was hailed as a success internationally, and eight years later, delegations are still coming from Sudan, Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka to learn how to broker peace after protracted fighting.
As part of the 2005 deal, 3,000 fighters (the number according to the pact) turned in 840 weapons and were each paid US$2,500 (at the December 2005 exchange rate).
In addition, the government paid another near $1,000 to 10,000 fighters who surrendered before the MOU signing. Research conducted for the European Union (EU)-led Aceh Monitoring Mission [http://www.aceh-mm.org] that followed the implementation of the peace pact calculated a total of 14,000 front-line fighters in 17 districts under GAM control, and another 12,000 people who played supporting roles in fighting.
The university spy (click here).