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Aceh: Then and now

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Aceh hit the international headlines at the end of December 2004, due to a huge earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands, injured many more and wreaked havoc in this northern province of Sumatra, Indonesia. International aid has poured in and international teams are working alongside Acehnese and Indonesian teams. However, so much remains to be done.

What is not so well known is that before the tsunami, Aceh was in the midst of a conflict that has killed 15,000 civilians since 1976. The conflict is between the Indonesian forces and the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM, the Free Aceh Movement). Aceh: Then and Now’s author Lesley McCulloch argues that the conflict has benefited the Indonesian military and police, who have run a large number of businesses – including illegal logging, gun running and drug operations – in Aceh. The author demonstrates that the Indonesian military and police have also been responsible for numerous violations of human rights in the province and seem to have acted with virtual impunity.

The people of Aceh are a minority within Indonesia, and within the province there are many ethnic groups and minority communities. Many of these groups have their own language and distinct cultural traits. The tsunami has opened Aceh up to outside involvement and scrutiny. This could represent an opportunity for change in Aceh, with regards to the police and military’s violations of human rights and, just possibly, an opportunity for progress towards an end to the conflict. Aceh and all of its peoples desperately need assistance in the relief and reconstruction work for the short and longer term. Its peoples also need help to ensure that the abuses and violations of the past are not allowed to take root in the present and future. Aceh: Then and Now ends with a series of recommendations calling on the Indonesian government and international donors to take action.

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