President Says Aceh Deal Must Hold

BANDA ACEH ~ President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appealed this week to political rivals in Aceh to resolve their differences democratically at the polls in April, amid fears of violence.

In only his second visit to the province since the signing of a historic peace deal between the government and separatist rebels in 2005, Yudhoyono warned against any slide back toward conflict ahead of the elections.

“I hope no one will disrupt this (peace agreement), no one will drop it. This is our choice… We will suffer big losses if we move backward,” he told a gathering of local officials, military commanders and community leaders here.

The unusually frank talk from the ex-general came hours after he had talks with Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, one of the architects of the Aceh peace deal, in Jakarta on Monday.

The visit also comes amid a spate of low-level political and criminal violence in the province on the northern tip of Sumatra island, including kidnappings and grenade attacks on party offices.

“We have to drop all personal interest for the interest of the Acehnese people and the Indonesian people,” Yudhoyono said.

“Don’t ever turn to the other direction. Don’t break up the process that has halted a very long and bloody conflict,” he said, without blaming any party or group for the simmering tensions.

The deal between the rebels and Jakarta – sealed after the devastation of the 2004 Asian tsunami – ended nearly three decades of separatist conflict that cost around 15,000 lives.

It brought the former rebels into power in local government and allowed the establishment of provincial political parties, but unemployment is high and foreign aid money is running out after the tsunami rebuilding effort.

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