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Compromising for peace: An interview with Jusuf Kalla

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Indonesia Vice-President Jusuf Kalla describes his contribution to the peace process and how he managed to deal with the most sensitive issues. He stresses the key to success was to pinpoint the root cause of the conflict.

Indonesia Vice-President Jusuf Kalla describes how he made direct contact with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), despite the sensitivities involved in talking to an armed group. He spoke both to GAM leadership in exile and to field commanders in Aceh, in order to ensure comprehensive 'buy in' to any agreement reached. Difficult issues during the Helsinki talks included allaying GAM suspicions, as well as overcoming parliamentary scepticism. The issue of local political parties in Aceh was especially sensitive, but Kalla identified precedents in Indonesian history that enabled government concession. For Kalla, the key to success was to pinpoint the root cause of the conflict: economic justice, rather than allegiance.

Compromising for peace: An interview with Jusuf Kalla

Accord: How did you approach the problem of finding a negotiated settlement to the Aceh conflict?

Jusuf Kalla: I had been involved in Aceh since 2003. In early 2004 I visited Europe to try to meet GAM leader Malik Mahmud, but did not make direct contact. It was only after the December 2004 tsunami that I really had success. In January 2005, I set up a meeting with GAM with the help of a number of European ambassadors. Two weeks later, with the authority of the President, the first meeting with GAM took place.

Initiating the talks required you to sanction contacts with an armed group. Did this pose dilemmas for you as a state representative?

Yes, but if there are problems, go directly to the problems, don't avoid them. To address the problems we had with GAM, I knew we had to make contact with their leaders with a clear vision and mission on what we could achieve. I always ask myself who the top leaders are and make contact with them. I called Malik Mahmud directly, even though I didn't know him personally. I also went to GAM leaders in the field, sending Farid Husain to the jungle to meet GAM commander Sofyan Dawood during the Helsinki talks to make sure that combatants followed the agreement through if it was achieved.

What did your government 'put on the table' to make the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) possible, and how difficult was it to commit to making the necessary concessions?

Peace means compromise, and compromise means concessions. That's why we put a number of compromises on the table: on the legal matters of Aceh, the economy and the problem of combatants and weapons and an amnesty for all GAM members.

Some concessions were quite controversial. How difficult was it for the government to accommodate GAM's desire for local political parties to be allowed in Aceh?

We knew the issue of local political parties would be a difficult one for parliament in Jakarta. And we understood that we had to make the MoU in such a way that parliament would be able to adapt it into law. We were finally convinced to agree to allow local parties in Aceh on the last day of the talks. I made two points in response to political opposition on this matter: we had local parties in Indonesia in the first elections in 1955; and Papua's special autonomy has a provision for local parties – even though it is not implemented, it means parliament has agreed to allow local parties before.

How did you engage with parliament and convince them about the Aceh talks?

I didn't engage with parliament on it until after the signing of the MoU. I never informed them about the subjects of the negotiations, nor a single paragraph of the agreement. Parliament wanted to know what we were talking about, but I said, 'you don't need to know!' If I had informed the parliament, they would have opposed me. They insisted that if there was a peace process or war announcement, it should be approved by parliament. I responded, 'yes, if it is peace or war with other countries – but this is not other countries, these are our people and I don't need parliamentary approval.' It is all according to the law. Some people were very upset but I had good reasons.

What are the main differences between the autonomy resulting from the peace agreement and the special autonomy provisions granted to Aceh before?

You can see that the Law on the Governing of Aceh really means special autonomy and is about how to govern the province, how the economy will be managed, the system of financial support for local government and so forth. The old law on special autonomy was not so detailed. All this was adapted from the MoU and is different from the other provinces.

Trust is essential in any peace process. How did you and your negotiating team gain the trust of the GAM negotiators?

Of course it was not easy to trust GAM and not easy for GAM to trust us. An important role for the mediators was to help build trust between the sides. After the signing we put together a committee with the EU and the Aceh Monitoring Mission to continue to build trust.

Also, remember that trust between GAM and the Indonesian military was very important. Each one would say to me, 'how can we trust the other side to implement an agreement?' I always said to the military leadership: 'Do you think GAM fighters are comfortable in the jungle? Do you think they will go back when they have a house in the town, and a motorbike?' And as for GAM I said 'Do you think the soldiers are happy, living in their barracks, far from their families, scared of the bullet?'

Are you satisfied with the progress of implementation so far, in particular the reintegration of ex-combatants?

Yes, I am satisfied, but of course you can't solve a 30-year problem quickly. The problem with reintegrating GAM's ex-combatants is the number keeps getting bigger and bigger. Perhaps the 3000 GAM combatants in the MoU cut was just a political figure and that is why it is now increasing, but that was what they agreed.

Is there still a role for international actors in supporting the consolidation of the peace in Aceh?

Now the people of Aceh can solve problems internally and there is no need for more international involvement. Of course, there are evaluations and observations to be done, but there is no need for direct involvement anymore. It's more about the economy now, no longer about political grievances.

Given the agreement was reached under the present Indonesian administration, some fear the 2009 elections may negatively affect Aceh's peace process.

The agreement has now been transferred into law – or at least 90 per cent of it. So it's no longer about personal support, but the law.

One issue that is in the news at the moment is the idea of having three provinces for Aceh, with autonomy for Aceh Barat Selatan and Aceh Leuser Antara. Do you think this is an issue that could negatively affect the peace process?

No, I have said this is not possible and so has the governor of Aceh. The legal border of Aceh province is North Sumatra, we cannot have another province in between. And special autonomy is only for Aceh, not for others. Some may want a new province, but they will get no special budget, no special treatment, and they will have many problems with the people.

What can others involved in trying to address armed conflict learn from your approach towards conflict problems?

I go direct to the problem – and also the solution. I put an offer on the table. In order to solve problems, you have to understand what is behind them, whether they are economic issues, political issues or cultural issues. I read all the books on the history of Aceh – I spent a month doing the research myself. I learned the problem in Aceh was not about allegiance but economic inequality and fairness. Now, with Aceh's system for autonomy, people should support the agreement.