Jakarta lifts Aceh emergency rule
Banda Aceh (AsiaNews/Agencies) The Indonesian government today lifted the emergency rule in place in Aceh province since May 2003. A government official said that "the decision showed Jakarta's commitment to making peace".
The move came a week before the start of a round of peace talks with rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The rebels, who have been fighting for the province's independence for decades, were invited to the talks scheduled for May 26-31 in Helsinki, Finland.
Information Minister Sofyan Djalil, one of the government's key negotiators, said "[t]he government has a very strong will to find a peaceful solution".
The lifting of emergency rule was greeted with mixed emotions by residents in Banda Aceh, capital of the province, a city that was destroyed as a result of the tsunami disaster of December 26.
"The government's decision to lift the civil emergency is a good step and we hope it will improve the situation. The important thing is that both parties don't continue killing common people," a construction worker said.
Another resident does not share the same opinion. "During the military operation, the law did not exist in Aceh. Kidnapping people, killing people was part of normal life. Lifting the emergency could make things worse," he said.
Jakarta imposed martial law in May 2003 as a last attempt to crush the rebellion. After its military offensive appeared to be successful, martial law was lifted and replaced it by a state of civil emergency in May 2004.
The province was subject to civilian law, not military law. Still, the army retained special powers.
Currently, it has nearly 40 battalions, consisting of 700-1,000 men each, in the province.