Subject: 'Aceh Needs Peace, Not New Provinces:' Activist and Politician

The Jakarta Post Thursday, June 19, 2008

'Aceh Needs Peace, Not New Provinces'

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Proposals for the establishment of two new provinces in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam have met with criticism from a prominent activist and a local politician.

Elfian Effendi, executive director of Greenomics Indonesia, an independent policy development institute, and Nasir Djamil, a provincial legislator from the Prosperous Justice Party, on Wednesday said the proposals were unrealistic, and called instead for increased sustainable development and security.

The proposed formation of the new provinces, Aceh Leuser Antara (ALA) and Southwest Aceh (ABAS), is intended to focus development efforts in specific areas, particularly along the west coast, which was devastated by the December 2004 tsunami.

However, Elfian and Nasir said it would threaten the fragile peace agreement between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government.

They added the proposals could revive separatist sentiments that wracked the province over the past three decades.

"The idea of establishing the two new provinces has raised pros and cons among the people and has raised specters from a past conflict that left many people bereaved, impoverished and without hope," Elfian told The Jakarta Post.

He said the formation of the new provinces would not help boost development, and would only threaten the province's sovereignty.

"Both the 2005 Helsinki peace deal and the law clearly stipulate Aceh's boundaries extend from the east coast to the west coast, and leave no room for the formation of new provinces," he said.

He called on all interested parties, including the government and security forces, to value the peaceful situation in the province and not make any decisions that would threaten it.

"This peaceful condition should be maintained to allow the province to catch up with other provinces in terms of development," Elfian said.

Nasir Djamil admitted there was a disparity in the development of the east and west coasts, but said this was mainly due to the separatist uprising and the tsunami.

He said increasing demands for the creation of the new provinces would gradually die down if the current administration, particularly at regency and municipal levels, used the considerable provincial budget wisely in funding social development programs.

Nasir also called into question the commitment of regional leaders in developing the west coast of the province, and said a large part of the budget had already been allocated to education, health, social services and infrastructure in regencies and municipalities.

He said of the province's 2008 budget of Rp 26 trillion, some Rp 17.6 trillion had been evenly distributed to all regencies and municipalities.

"Besides, the governor has set up a special team to speed up development along the west coast, and their funding comes directly from the provincial budget," he said.

Nasir said the onus was now squarely on the governor to persuade regents and mayors to prioritize lower income residents when planning their respective budgets, just as required by the qanun (bylaw).

"With the huge funds provided by international donors, regional heads should be able to provide free healthcare, free education and repair all damaged infrastructure, including roads, schools and hospitals, to stimulate economic development in rural areas, especially along the west coast."

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