Rebellion and Reform in Indonesia: Jakarta's Security and Autonomy Policies in Aceh

Rebellion and Reform in Indonesia: Jakarta's Security and Autonomy Policies in Aceh

Rebellion and Reform in Indonesia: Jakarta's Security and Autonomy Policies in Aceh

Rebellion and Reform in Indonesia: Jakarta's Security and Autonomy Policies in Aceh


Armed separatist movements in Papua, East Timor and Aceh have been a serious problem for Indonesia's central government. This book examines the policies of successive Indonesian governments to contain secessionist forces, focusing in particular on Jakarta's response towards the armed separatist movement in Aceh. Unlike other studies of separatism in Indonesia, this book concentrates on the responses of the central government rather than looking only at the separatist forces. It shows how successive governments have tried a wide range of approaches including military repression, offers of autonomy, peace talks and a combination of these. It discusses the lessons that have been learned from these different approaches and analyzes the impact of the tsunami, including the successful accommodation of former rebels within an Indonesian devolved state structure and the expanding implementation of Islamic law.


On 11 December, 2006, the citizens of Indonesia’s north-westernmost province of Aceh voted in their first ever direct democratic local elections. These were the first elections in Aceh since the devastating December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 160,000 Acehnese, left another 550,000 homeless and swept entire villages into the sea. The elections were also the first in three decades to be held under peacetime conditions because the signing of a peace agreement between the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Acheh Merdeka, GAM) and the Indonesian government in Helsinki on 15 August, 2005 brought an end to one of Asia’s most enduring and bloody armed separatist conflicts. This was also the first time in Indonesian history that Jakarta had allowed independent candidates who were not affiliated with any registered party to compete in local elections, making Aceh’s electoral system the most participatory, equitable and inclusive anywhere in Indonesia.

The Acehnese people used their newfound political freedom to elect a former GAM rebel as Aceh’s new governor. Irwandi Yusuf, an elephant veterinarian by profession, had been in jail for his role in the conflict when the tsunami struck, and had escaped through the roof of his prison cell during the disaster. From there he fled to Sweden, where the Free Aceh Movement’s political leadership resided in exile, and only returned to Aceh (this time a free man) after GAM and the Indonesian government signed the historic Helsinki peace agreement.

Aceh’s first direct democratic local elections were described by analysts as a milestone in Indonesia’s political development. This was especially so within the context of the war in Aceh, which had persisted for almost eight months after the tsunami. After May 1998, when a national process of democratization was initiated in Indonesia, the successive administrations of Bacharuddin Yusuf Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri made some attempts to search for a negotiated settlement to the Aceh conflict through different offers of ‘special autonomy’ and limited peace talks with GAM’s exiled political leadership. For the most part, however, the Indonesian state relied more heavily on ‘security operations’ to deal with Aceh’s separatist insurgency. It was only under the government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that the signing of the Helsinki agreement ushered in a new era of peace.

This book explores Indonesia’s initiatives and capacity to contain the Aceh conflict after the end of President Suharto’s New Order regime in May 1998. It is . . .

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