Diplomacy Key For Former Rebel Turned Governor In Indonesia’s Aceh

Diplomacy Key For Former Rebel Turned Governor In Indonesia’s Aceh

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Former rebel turned governor, Irwandi Yusuf, stunned many with his victory in the first direct provincial election held in Indonesia's once pro-secessionist province of Aceh on Dec.11, 2006. Yet, with post-election pleasantries now over, the former academic has a tough job ahead, as hefty expectations weigh on his three-year term, due to start on Feb. 8.

Irwandi's election is the direct result of the peace deal signed between the Indonesian government and the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) in Helsinki, Finland, on Aug. 15, 2005. The peace ended a separatist war that had killed nearly 30,000 since 1976.

In a nutshell, the Helsinki agreement called for GAM to lay down weapons in exchange for a degree of autonomy that includes control over 70 percent of the revenue produced by local natural resources, and the right to form regional political parties -- something not allowed anywhere else in Indonesia. It also granted full amnesty to former rebels and paved the way for them to enter the political arena. Irwandi was among those who took advantage of this opportunity.

Irwandi has a proven track record in defense of the Acehnese cause. A former lecturer in veterinary medicine, he joined GAM in 1998 and soon rose within the ranks. He was part of the team that restructured the group's military wing and was, eventually, appointed head of GAM's intelligence unit. He was arrested in 2003, then freed when the December 2004 tsunami destroyed his prison cell. By then, GAM and Jakarta had already begun peace talks, and once the Helsinki deal was sealed, Irwandi joined the political fray as an independent candidate.

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