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Cablegate: Peace Concert Shows That the Acehnese Are Putting the Past

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DE RUEHJA #0588 0601001
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 011001Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY JAKARTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3550
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0485
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 3311
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0268
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 1373
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHHJJPI/USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS JAKARTA 000588

SIPDIS

Sensitive
SIPDIS
AIDAC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINS SOCI KDEM ASEC ID
SUBJECT: Peace Concert Shows that the Acehnese are Putting the Past
Behind Them


1. (U) Summary: In Central Aceh, a remote district which was
formerly the scene of some of the Aceh conflict's worst violence and
which is still sees relatively little NGO activity, the people have
put the past behind them and are looking to agriculture for
prosperity. Syariah Islam and the religious police are also playing
less of a role here than in some of Aceh's other regions. End
Summary.

2. (U) Thousands of Acehnese attended an IOM and USAID -sponsored
evening peace concert in Takengon on February 17. Several dangdut
(an indigenous style of music) bands and singers from around Aceh
and Jakarta performed to an appreciative audience.

3. (U) Rain before the scheduled start time of the concert made the
field muddy, but did not dampen the entrepreneurial hopes of the
many hawkers who had set up stalls around the field. The concert
had been well advertised, and everyone expected a large turnout. By
concert time, several thousand people, including families with small
children, had gathered on the field. The rain, however, pooled
dangerously on the tenting over the stage and delayed the start of
the concert as workers struggled to dislodge the collected
rainwater.

4. (U) Once the music started the crowd began to jostle for
position and groups of youths started to dance. No Syariah police
were in evidence and the crowd of men and women were allowed to mix
freely. Although some of the young men in the audience appeared to
be military, none seemed to be there in any official capacity and
were enjoying the music along with everyone else. The only apparent
security presence was uniformed police directing traffic and
providing crowd control at the end of the concert.

5. (U) In discussions with attendees before and during the concert,
optimism was expressed at the recent elections and hope that Aceh
Governor Irawani Yosef would succeed rebuilding Aceh. Although
Tekengon was at the center of much anti-independence militia
activity before the 2004 Helsinki MOU, nobody expressed any
dissatisfaction with Free Aceh Movement's (GAM) victories in the
elections. Several people engaged us in spirited conversations
about Central Aceh's agricultural potential and the possibility of
selling to American markets.

6.(SBU) During a separate visit to Takengon in early February, we
met with the Muslim cleric who heads the local Syariah office and
Central Aceh's branch of the Council of Ulamas (Majelis Pimpinan
Ulama). When asked about implementation of Syariah law, he pointed
to a poster distributed by his office which said "Syariah Law Comes
from Within" (Syariah Berasal Dari Diri Sendiri) and said his
responsibility was to ensure that people understood Islam, not force
it on people who were not ready. Attempts to do so, he said, were
misguided and could even be damaging.

7. (U) Comment: The peace concert is the latest evidence that
conditions within Aceh have changed dramatically since the signing
of the MOU. Large crowds can now freely assemble in remote towns
and not cause security concerns - something that was unimaginable 18
months ago - and people are more interested in talking about
agricultural markets than independence or the peace process, clear
signs that even in Aceh's remote corners, far from the presence of
large numbers of foreigners and NGO, Aceh is putting its violent
past behind it and looking to the future.
Heffern

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