Aceh: survivors need new homes, not politics
Ulee-Lheu (AsiaNews/Scmp) - Irfandi is one of the survivors to the disastrous tsunami of december the 26. He is 29 and lives on the shoreline outside Banda Aceh in a donated tent. All that he has is a stunning ocean view and little else.
Promises of government support to rebuild his home have yet to materialise and he relies on international charities for monthly rations and fresh water. He spends his days diving for scrap in the harbour. His weary community of some 40 survivors from this pulverised slum is waiting for their luck to change. "I feel hopeless. The government comes here and makes promises, but nothing happens," he says.
A few hundred metres from his tent, outside a mosque that withstood the deadly waves, on the mosque steps, surrounded by jostling cameramen and reporters, two top members of Aceh's rebel movement (GAM) are promising peace and prosperity. "GAM's weapons have done their duty to defend Aceh's dignity. It's time to let them go," said Yusuf Irwandi, a negotiator for the rebels.
The two scenes - the misery of the tent community and the rebel press conference - are inextricably linked. Both sides in the conflict, which has claimed an estimated 15,000 lives since 1976, acknowledge that the tsunami brought them to the negotiating table and within reach of a political settlement.
International donors who rushed to support relief projects in Aceh quickly realised that without a negotiated ceasefire and demobilisation, the reconstruction would be fraught with security risks.
Their presence, and the prospect of unlocking billions of dollars pledged to Aceh, gave a fresh impetus to talks. Under the peace accord signed on August 15, GAM agreed to disarm and accept autonomy for Aceh in return for a pullout of 27,000 Indonesian troops and compensation for former combatants and victims of the violence. "We're not talking about independence anymore. It's not so important when we see the tsunami damage and all the suffering," said Kamaruzzaman, a GAM negotiator.
Some in Aceh are sceptical of GAM's commitment to peace and raise concerns that aid pledged for tsunami survivors will be diverted to the rebels, though donors argue that there is plenty of money to go around.
And the slow pace of reconstruction has led to frustration. Tens of thousands of people left destitute are stuck in temporary housing, waiting for competing land claims and other legal and social issues to be settled before homes can be rebuilt.
"Hopefully we can have a peaceful agreement in Aceh. But I'm not 100 per cent sure." Irfandi said.
Then he asserted he does not care about politics, as long as someone can rebuild his community and the economy. His tent leaks during the storms that sweep the coastline, forcing him to sleep in the corner away from the puddles of water. But he has refused to move to purpose-built barracks far from the shore, reasoning that he cannot make a living there.