Aceh refugees and conflict transformation
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Aceh province is located at the northernmost tip of the Sumatra Island in the Indonesian archipelago. It is an area rich in natural resources, especially natural gas, yet it is one of the poorest provinces in the country. Exploitation of the riches of Aceh, by a combination of the Indonesian state and foreign interests, contributed to internal calls for Aceh’s independence in the 1970s.
REPUSM is located within the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang, Malaysia. It was set up in 1995 to facilitate peace research and education at the university. It has an outreach programme and had been involved in peace support activities, not only within Malaysia but also throughout the Southeast Asian region. In 2001 REPUSM became the Regional Secretariat for the Southeast Asian Conflict Studies Network (SEACSN), tasked with enhancing the study of peace and conflict in the region and fostering collaborations between peace academics and researchers. Four special peace programmes were created at REPUSM, including the APP, Mediation and Reconciliation Services, the Mindanao Peace Programme and the Southern Thailand Peace Programme.
The APP was started by accident and not by design. It would not have been possible to set up the APP without a substantial Acehnese student body at the university (especially those with activist backgrounds), and if the students had not volunteered their time, energy, expertise and enthusiasm to start and maintain the programme. This commitment eventually evolved into an effective conflict transformation and peace support programme for Aceh.
Funding There was no stable financial support for the activities of the APP. Most were supported by REPUSM, which in turn used resources from SEACSN. Staff members of REPUSM were paid by SEACSN, but donated extra time and energy to the Aceh programme. The people working in APP also helped other REPUSM programmes, using the opportunity to gain more experience of other conflict and peace issues in the region as well as using these platforms to advocate for peace in Aceh.
Many of those affiliated with the APP at REPUSM returned to Aceh after the 2004 tsunami and the signing of the Helsinki MoU in August 2005. Many of them are now in various leadership positions in government, NGOs, academia, business and politics. The Aceh Institute is now in Aceh, where it belongs, with the former APP coordinator as its Executive Director. REPUSM still maintains close relations with the institute and other organisations in Aceh. The institute has evolved into a well respected scholarly body in Aceh. It has conducted research on a number of topics, including peace and security, the economy, culture and religion, often collaborating with local, national and international partners. Scholars and interested individuals go to the Aceh Institute website to get information about Aceh. The Aceh Institute office in Banda Aceh also hosts a café, library and meeting areas where people gather in both formal and informal settings to discuss relevant issues. The institute is continuing to make an impact with the work that it is doing.