Aceh Governor Faces New Battle

BANDA ACEH, Aceh ~ A former rebel inaugurated as governor of Aceh says he now faces a new and lengthy fight for his people’s welfare.

Irwandi Yusuf, a former spokesman for the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), won the first direct elections for the post on 38 percent of the December 11 vote, with his nearest rivals on less than 17 percent.

“We are grateful and thank all the people in Aceh for trusting us with this job. We realize that we are given a big task,” Yusuf told his supporters.

“For us, there is no lasting victory but an everlasting fight for the welfare of Aceh,” he said, adding that what the people of Aceh enjoy today was the result of a long fight.

The elections were seen as consolidating a peace accord signed between the rebels and Indonesian government in August 2005 to end decades of bloodshed.

Yusuf was jailed in 2003 for rebellion and eventually fled when the tsunami struck on December 26, 2004, flooding his prison.

The giant waves killed more than 168,000 people in Aceh and compelled the rebels and the Indonesian government to reassess their priorities after the long-running conflict.

Home Affairs Minister Mohammad Ma’ruf installed Yusuf and his running mate Muhammad Nazar as governor and deputy governor at a ceremony last week in the provincial parliament.

“I express my respect to the Aceh parliament for their success in organizing this election,” the minister said, adding the polls could be a model for other regions.

The US embassy hailed their inauguration as a positive move.

“The inauguration of Irwandi Yusuf as governor and Muhammad Nazar as deputy governor of Aceh is a positive step forward in Indonesia’s democratic development and in the Aceh peace process,” the embassy said in a statement.

“We welcome the fact that all sides have taken a constructive approach to the election and have publicly committed to working together to develop the province and continue the peace process.”

Election observers had said the polls for governor and deputy – previously directly appointed by Jakarta – and district heads were peaceful and transparent, with turnout a high 85 percent.

A number of cabinet ministers, governors and ambassadors from the European Union, Finland, Germany and Portugal attended the inauguration, which was closed to journalists.

Hundreds of people crowded around three large televisions in a nearby park to follow the event, which was relayed live across the province.

Under the peace deal signed in Helsinki, GAM rebels laid down their weapons and Jakarta withdrew non-local troops and police from the province at the northern tip of Sumatra, and granted an amnesty to rebels and political prisoners.

In return for GAM dropping its call for independence, Jakarta granted the resource-rich region greater autonomy and allowed the establishment of local political parties, a first for Indonesia.

Indonesian politics has traditionally been locked to national Jakarta-based parties, which are seen as failing to reflect the aspirations of regions with strong local identities such as Papua, North Sulawesi and Bali.

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