The EU in Aceh: between conflict resolution and peace-building

13 March 2006

The European Policy Centre and the Institute for Security Studies held a Policy Dialogue on The EU in Aceh: between conflict resolution and peace-building. Keynote speakers were Pieter Feith, Head of the Aceh Monitoring Mission and the European Council’s Deputy Director-General for European Security and Defence Policy and Operations, and Andreas List, European Commission Desk Officer for Indonesia. The meeting was introduced by EPC Chief Policy Analyst Antonio Missiroli and Giovanni Grevi, Research Fellow, Institute for Security Studies. The meeting was chaired by EPC Senior Policy Analyst Axel Berkofsky.

In his introductory remarks, Giovanni Grevi praised the progress made by the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM). He said its success would lead to a more integrated European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), and provide lessons for future, similar EU missions in crisis areas.

Pieter Feith, Head of the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) and Deputy Director- General for the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and Operations in the European Council, put the AMM’s work in a broader context.

The AMM began operations in September 2005, and its mission has been extended to 15 June this year. This date will be an “important milestone” as it will mark the end of the Aceh crisis and complete the international community’s mediation and monitoring role.

After that, the EU will build on its new partnership with Indonesia to support reforms aimed at, among other things, eradicating corruption, controlling the armed forces and creating greater internal stability. The Union will also support an enhanced role for Indonesia in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and in the region as a whole. Mr Feith explained that this was the first time the EU had worked with ASEAN, and it would use this positive experience to deepen its relationship with the organisation, including collaborating in the regional fight against terrorism.

The AMM chief said that by successfully implementing a peace process at very short notice, the mission had strengthened both the ESDP and its status “as a global player in crisis management”. He explained that at the close of the mission, there would be an assessment of the AMM’s strengths and weaknesses, and its results would be applied to future joint EU-ASEAN operations.

An evaluation of the immediate gains is positive: the guerrilla fighters of the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) (Free Aceh Movement) have laid down their arms and most of the Indonesia Security Forces have withdrawn from Aceh. General security has greatly improved: civilian killings declined from 107 in October 2005 to 20 in February 2006, and the World Bank reports that the human rights situation is also improving. A Commission of Security Arrangements (COSA) has been established and serves as a forum for direct discussion between the government and the GAM.

Work still to be done

Mr Feith said that while the reintegration of former GAM fighters and political prisoners who have been granted an amnesty was on track, progress on this must be sustained. Since September 2005, thousands of prisoners have been released, but the AMM still has to settle a few remaining disputed cases.

The mission also has to show that it can achieve quick results, including the rapid disbursement of Indonesian government funds on the ground.

Finalising Aceh’s autonomy law is also crucial, said Mr Feith. Here the AMM’s remit is to ensure it reflects points agreed during the Helsinki Peace Agreement in July 2005.

Another AMM priority is to hold local elections before the mission leaves on 15 June, as this will help establish a stable political situation, and here the Indonesian government would welcome the presence of EU observers to give the elections credibility. New identity cards will also be needed before the election to establish who among the population is entitled to vote.

The last challenges for AMM are to encourage the different parties to establish better links, and to negotiate with the illegal groups and parties which AMM hopes to decommission before it leaves. Its final task will be to prepare an “exit strategy”, so that long-term community programmes continue after its departure. An EU team will remain in place to offer technical assistance and support in coordinating and disseminating public information.

Finally, more will need to be done to link the political process locally with GAM and other civil society representatives to ensure that the peace process is self-sustainable.

Integrated crisis management

For Andreas List, the Indonesian Desk Officer at the European Commission, the key phrase which best describes the AMM is “an integrated approach to crisis management and prevention”. As a global player, the EU’s role in Aceh is to support the Indonesian-led peace process.

Since Indonesian independence, the people of Aceh have been fighting for more autonomy and, since 2002, there have been moves to resolve the conflict, but without success. The tsunami in 2004 “ripened” the conflict and, in bringing it to international attention, made it more difficult to “sabotage” peace negotiations.

The success of the current approach is that all parties see the EU as a credible partner, with the institutional weight to back up its work. In addition, the Union has “the full tool box of instruments at its disposal” to enable it apply this integrated approach.

The EU and its Member States are by far the world’s biggest donors in the post-tsunami reconstruction, and are supporting the AMM with an additional budget of €34 million. This is directed at rebuilding the local police force, developing a “new approach to justice”, strengthening local governance and reintegrating former GAM combatants. The Union is also helping with the organisation and voter-registration for the forthcoming local elections.

Mr List attributed the operation’s success to the fact that, by acting as a stabilising factor, the AMM had created an atmosphere where all the parties were able to fulfil the agreements they made in July 2005. The positive outcome had also bolstered Indonesia’s international reputation by showing that peace was “do-able”.

The AMM has improved the EU’s relations both with Indonesia and with ASEAN. In contrast to its approach in East Timor, the Indonesian government now sees the Union as a constructive partner. This has opened up political dialogue at the ministerial level and improved bilateral cooperation.

Much is being done to make the peace-process sustainable: the draft law is an important step, as it describes the different national and local responsibilities. The remaining question is how to enforce measures to ensure that the revenues from Aceh’s natural resources are returned to Banda Aceh.