Tsunami - Aceh: Making a Tragedy Out of a Disaster

In the first few days after the tsunami decimated the west coast of the Indonesian province of Aceh, hopes were high on all sides that out of this disaster could come a resolution to the decades-long separatist conflict that has ravaged the province. Indonesia’s newly elected President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, announced ‘a historic moment to unite and rebuild Aceh together’. Already, however, such hopes are fading as political issues crowd in. What went wrong?

The World Today Updated 15 October 2020 Published 1 February 2005 4 minute READ

Graham Brown

Research Officer, Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity, Oxford University

The ‘Acehnese’, says professor Anthony Reid, a historian who specialises in Aceh, ‘deserve better’. Once the centre of a powerful Islamic sultanate, the people of Aceh have spent much of the past two centuries fighting foreign domination, first by the British and the Dutch, then the Japanese and now what many perceive as illegitimate Indonesian control.

When violent separatism re-emerged in the early 1990s, Aceh was subjected to a campaign of military repression that resulted in accusations of horrific human rights abuses. In 1998 and 1999, attempts by the newly democratised Indonesian state to draw a line under the atrocities of the past and start a peace process met scepticism from many in Aceh. After the process collapsed and the province was again placed under martial law, what little remaining credibility the Indonesian government had there evaporated.

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