Indonesia's Aceh province needs jobs

Indonesia's Aceh province needs jobs in addition to the peace agreement reached between separatist rebels and Jakarta in August to put a conclusive end to 29 years of conflict, a former senior Indonesian diplomat said Wednesday. The Indonesian government must improve economic opportunities for Acehnese to break from the poverty that has spurred violence in the past, said Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, who two years ago represented Indonesia in failed peace talks with Aceh's separatist rebels.

"The peace agreement is there, but if the people's stomachs are not filled and the pockets are not filled," a state of peace would be hard to sustain, Wiryono said at a seminar in Singapore.

"So job creation is very important, the economic life has to be restored, and investment has to come," Wiryono said. "It's not enough only to work on the agreement."

Separatists have said their struggle was triggered by economic exploitation by the central government, as well as torture and other heavy-handed tactics by the Indonesian military.

Under the peace accord signed in August in Helsinki, Finland, the government will withdraw 24,000 police and soldiers in exchange for the handover of 840 weapons by the rebel Free Aceh Movement. Both commitments must be completed by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, former Aceh rebels completed a third round of weapons decommissioning as part of the deal. The Indonesian government plans to complete its third round of troop withdrawals by Friday.

Also outlined in the Helsinki pact was the granting of wide-ranging autonomy to Aceh, with promises the Indonesian government would consult and cooperate with Acehnese authorities when making decisions or entering international agreements that affect the region. Peace efforts picked up speed after the massive earthquake and tsunami struck the area on Dec. 26, 2004, killing 131,000 people in the province and leaving half a million others homeless. Another 37,000 are missing and presumed dead, reports the AP. I.L.

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