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.