Meditation Focus #123

Encouraging New Opportunities For Peace


What follows is the 123rd Meditation Focus suggested for the next 2 weeks beginning Sunday, January 23, 2004.


1. Summary
2. Meditation times
3. More information related to this Meditation Focus
i. Renewed Prospects for Peace in the Middle East
ii. Turning the Ceasefire Into Permanent Peace in Aceh
iii. Creating an Atmosphere Conducive to the Peace Process in Sri Lanka



In the wake of the devastating tsunami that left close to a quarter of a million people dead and rendered homeless over 5 million people in 12 countries, and following the resoundingly successful worldwide effort to bring swift assistance to everyone affected by this catastrophe, a new spirit of global cooperation and a new opportunity for resolving long simmering conflicts have arisen which now seem to steer old foes towards renewed attempts to make peace with each other, notably between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement, an armed Islamic group seeking independence for the province of Aceh, and between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels who want the right to govern the north and east of the country. In both cases, thousands of people have died in bitterly fought armed struggles that failed to deliver peace between the belligerents. In both cases the need to set aside their conflicting claims to make way for urgently needed humanitarian assistance to hundred of thousands of tsunami victims has now created a window of opportunity to renew peace talks and conclude negotiated peace agreements.

Meanwhile, another long conflict between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority is now on the verge of a major breakthrough for peace following the elections of a new Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, who has just secured an agreement with leading Palestinian militant groups for a cease-fire of about a month in the Middle East conflict, after threats of massive retaliation by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a result of Palestinian militants' mortar and rocket attacks against Israel and Jewish settlements in Gaza several days ago. Albeit those tentative efforts could still be derailed by a single act of deadly violence either by uncontrolled Palestinian elements or by the Israeli army, it appears there is now a willingness on both sides to give peace a chance and allow negotiators to conclude an agreement for a permanent ceasefire that would put an end to the second, four year long Intifada, thus paving the way for new efforts to implement the "roadmap to peace" proposed several years ago — provided both parties accept to make reasonable demands and are willing to make sincere efforts to help rebuild shattered trust and enable a true workable peace settlement to be negotiated.

Please dedicate your prayers and meditations, as guided by Spirit, in the coming two weeks, and especially in synchronous attunement at the usual time this Sunday and the following Sunday, to contribute in encouraging the steps now being taken in Aceh, Sri Lanka and in the Middle East towards the beginning of true and comprehensive peace negotiations, eventually leading to a permanent end to all hostilities and the flourishing of peace and prosperity for everyone in these areas of the world. May these efforts also open the way for other seemingly intractable conflicts around the world to follow similar steps towards peaceful settlements and make abundantly clear for all to see that violence and destruction could never and will never succeed in bringing about peace, justice and human dignity to anyone. Let us conjure up visions of Peace, Love and Harmony prevailing in everyone's hearts and souls so as to assist the Forces of Light striving both in and beyond this world and dimension to co-create a New Era of Peace on Earth, for the Highest Good of All.

This whole Meditation Focus has been archived for your convenience at

"It is an illusion to think that peace can be attained by strength of arms, it can only be found within yourself by all who are peaceful & defenseless."

- Deepak Chopra - Taken from


i) Global Meditation Day: Sunday at 16:00 Universal Time (GMT) or at noon local time. Suggested duration: 30 minutes. Please dedicate the last few minutes of your Sunday meditation BOTH to the healing of the Earth as a whole and to reiterate our willingness and desire - if we so choose - to receive assistance from our space family in order to help set things on a path towards a new era of global peace, love and harmony for all. See the Earth as healthy and vibrant with life, and experience the healing of all relations as we awaken globally to the sacredness of all Life and to our underlying unity with All That Is.

ii) Golden Moment of At-Onement: Daily, at the top of any hour, or whenever it better suits you.

These times below are currently corresponding to 16:00 Universal Time/GMT:

Honolulu 6:00 AM -- Anchorage * 8:00 AM -- Los Angeles * 9:00 AM -- Mexico City, San Salvador & Denver * 10:00 AM -- Houston * & Chicago * 11:00 AM -- Santo Domingo, La Paz, Caracas, New York *, Toronto *. Montreal *, Asuncion & Santiago 12:00 AM -- Halifax *, Rio de Janeiro & Montevideo 1:00 PM -- Reykjavik & Casablanca 4 PM -- Lagos, Algiers, London *, Dublin * & Lisbon * 5:00 PM -- Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Geneva *, Rome *, Berlin *, Paris * & Madrid * 6:00 PM -- Ankara *, Athens *, Helsinki * & Istanbul * & Nairobi 7:00 PM -- Baghdad *, Moscow * 8:00 PM -- Tehran * 8:30 PM -- Islamabad 9:00 PM -- Calcutta & New Delhi 9:30 PM -- Dhaka 10:00 PM -- Rangoon 10:30 PM -- Hanoi, Bangkok & Jakarta 11:00 PM -- Hong Kong, Perth, Beijing & Kuala Lumpur +12:00 PM -- Seoul & Tokyo +1:00 AM -- Brisbane, Canberra & Melbourne +2:00 AM -- Wellington +4:00 AM

+ means the place is one day ahead of Universal Time/Greenwich Mean Time.

* means the place is observing daylight saving time (DST) at the moment.

You may also check at to find your corresponding local time for tomorrow if a nearby city is not listed above.


This complement of information may help you to better understand the various aspects pertaining to the summary description of the subject of this Meditation Focus. It is recommended to view this information from a positive perspective, and not allow the details to tinge the positive vision we wish to hold in meditation. Since what we focus on grows, the more positive our mind-set, the more successful we will be in manifesting a vision of peace and healing. This complementary information is provided so that a greater knowledge of what needs healing and peace-nurturing vibrations may assist us to have an in-depth understanding of what is at stake and thus achieve a greater collective effectiveness.

i. Renewed Prospects for Peace in the Middle East


Abbas Secures Palestinian Militants' Truce - Israel

Jan 23, 2005

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has secured an agreement with leading Palestinian militant groups for a cease-fire of about a month in the Middle East conflict, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Sunday.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad had agreed to the cease-fire in return for a future role in the Palestinian Authority, Mofaz told Israel Radio in an interview.

"As far as we understand, there is an agreement between (Abbas) and the heads of Hamas and Islamic Jihad for a cease-fire for a certain period ... about a month," said Mofaz.

Officials from Abbas's Palestinian Authority and the two militant groups were not immediately available for comment on Mofaz's comments. Abbas has been holding cease-fire talks with militant factions in the Gaza Strip in the last few days.

A Hamas official said on Saturday the group, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, would need an Israeli commitment to halt military operations in return for a cease-fire.

Mofaz said Israel had made no promises but that the army would curtail its activities if there was a halt to more than four years of violence in a Palestinian uprising for statehood.

"As long as there is quiet there is no reason for us to act," he said.

Since Abbas embarked on the talks, there have been no mortar or rocket attacks against Israel or Jewish settlements in Gaza. The Israeli army said it had also noticed a steep decline in shootings and other violent incidents against Israeli forces in Gaza.



Israel sending hopeful signal

January 23, 2005

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Israel has signaled a change in position that could help pave the way toward an elusive cease-fire after more than four years of fighting Palestinian militants .Israel's defense minister tells Israeli radio stations the military is willing to suspend operations against Palestinian militants if they don't carry out attacks. CLIP



Palestinian groups look at ceasefire as Abbas seeks end to attacks

January 22, 2005

GAZA CITY (AFP) - Three militant Palestinian groups, including the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades linked to the mainstream Fatah, said that they were ready to back new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas's bid to end armed conflict with Israel.

The Brigades said its member groups were prepared to halt attacks through a mutual ceasefire, in a welcome boost for the moderate Abbas who is seeking to persuade Israel of his ability to impose order in the territories.

There was, however, no announcement of any progress in Abbas's efforts to get the militant Islamic group Hamas to join the swing to seeking a political settlement.

Talks had been scheduled for Friday, but Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters: "There has been no meeting."

Abbas was to hold more talks with the militant Islamic Jihad after a meeting on Friday at which Jihad leader in Gaza, Mohammed al-Hindi, said: "We discussed all issues, including a truce. But there is no such thing as a free truce."

After the Brigades' announcement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) also said they were ready to consider seeking a conditional ceasefire with Israel.

The agreements were a first step, and were linked to a wide-ranging response from the Jewish state.

The Brigades' conditions for any agreement to a ceasefire, included that Israel announce a cessation of its military operations, halt its policy of targeted assassination of militants and releases Palestinian prisoners.

"We are ready for a mutual ceasefire and to change the means of resistance in the interest of our people," the radical Islamic group said in a statement read during a press conference in Gaza City by its spokesman Abu Ibrahim.

"The government of the enemy (Israel) must announce an immediate stop to its military operations against our people and our land, including assassinations, releasing our prisoners and dismantling the roadblocks in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

"The government of the enemy must also announce that it is ready to immediately withdraw all of its troops from all Palestinian areas to open the path to a return to the negotiating table," said the text, which was signed by "the organizations of the martyr Ayman Judeh".

The groups are the largest and most representative within the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Their position, according to Abu Ibrahim, speaks for all the groups belonging to the Brigades.

Abbas later met members of the radical DFLP and PFLP in his bid to ensure that new hope for a renewal of the Middle East peace process is not thwarted by militant attacks.



Palestinian Police Deploy across Gaza Strip

By Lara Sukhtian - The Associated Press

21 January 2005

Armed Palestinian police deploy on Israel-Gaza border, spurring hopes for calm.

Hundreds of armed Palestinian police deployed across the northern Gaza Strip on Friday to prevent rocket fire on Israeli communities, raising hopes the two sides have found a way to end more than four years of bloody conflict and resume peace talks.

The deployment, with officers patrolling in shiny new pickup trucks, came after Israel and the Palestinians renewed security coordination earlier this week. In parallel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is negotiating with armed groups to win their commitment to a cease-fire, and his associates said he is making progress.

Some 3,000 members of the Palestinian security forces were to take up positions in northern Gaza a first since fighting erupted in 2000 and Israeli troops began targeting armed Palestinians, including many in uniform, on suspicion of involvement in the violence. Police were to deploy in the southern half of the strip by Sunday.


Asked whether Israel would halt military strikes, Boim told Israel Radio: "I assume that further down the line, there will be a meeting, and we'll see exactly what Abu Mazen wants."

A period of calm could lead to peace negotiations, starting with coordination of Israel's planned pullout from Gaza in the summer. But renewed violence would likely trigger an Israeli offensive, bury peace prospects and undermine Abbas' attempt to establish a regime based on calm after the death of longtime leader Yasser Arafat.

In a further sign of easing tensions, the army Friday opened the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, the Palestinians' only link to the Arab world, to incoming traffic. The crossing has been closed since a Dec. 12 attack on the Israeli military post there killed five soldiers.



Security plan warms Israeli-Palestinian ties

Officials agreed Thursday on cooperative border measures to halt attacks on Israeli towns.

By Joshua Mitnick | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

January 21, 2005

TEL AVIV – Hundreds of Palestinian security officers were expected to be deployed in Gaza Friday after a rare meeting between Palestinian security chiefs and Israeli generals on how to silence a wave of rocket and mortar fire into southern Israel.

The first effort at security collaboration in at least 18 months marked a swift reversal of Ariel Sharon's decision from the weekend to suspend contacts with the fledgling Palestinian administration, and could give President Mahmoud Abbas the necessary breathing room to reach a critical cease-fire agreement with Hamas.

After four years of refusing to deal with Yasser Arafat over his failure to rein in Palestinian militants, the Israeli about-face held out a tentative hope that Messrs Sharon and Abbas could forge a new understanding on ending the Palestinian uprising.

But at a minimum, Israel's decision to hold fire in the face of calls to retake wide swaths of the Gaza Strip reflects a tactical move by Sharon to insulate himself from allegations that he undermined Abbas, say analysts.

"It's a pragmatic decision, because first of all we don't want to be accused of not having given [Abbas] the opportunity,'' says Shmuel Bar, a Middle East expert at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center near Tel Aviv. "It's worthwhile from our point of view as well. It's not popular in Israel to fight in areas where the prime minister says we don't have to be.''

Patrols of Palestinian security officers have already been spotted in areas of northern Gaza used as launching sites for homemade rockets by militants from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and even Abbas's own Fatah party. Thursday evening Palestinian security chiefs presented Israeli counterparts with a detailed plan on how to stop the rocket fire and the infiltration of militants into Israel.

Israeli officials confirmed, on the condition of anonymity, that they had accepted the plan, and that the Palestinians said they would deploy up to 1,000 officers.

"We told them [Israeli generals] that we are arranging a plan to deploy the Palestinian security forces into both the northern and southern parts of Gaza," Maj. Gen. Moussa Arafat, a Palestinian security chief, told the Associated Press Thursday. "In the first stage, it will be in the north, and then we will move into the south."

Last weekend, a suicide bombing at a crossing point into Gaza left several of the city's residents dead. The failure of Israel's military to snuff out the strikes prompted the municipal council to call a general strike on Monday, which put rising pressure on Sharon to instruct the army to secure large areas in northern Gaza.

Palestinians have cautioned that such an offensive would all but doom talks with Hamas on a cease-fire. That's because militants are demanding from Abbas a guarantee that Israel will halt its assassination strikes and incursions.

"There's no reason to expose [Abbas] to pressure from within because of the continuous threats from Israel,'' says Elias Zananiri, a former Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman. "His agenda is clear, and Hamas has to listen.''

The Palestinian Authority's official newspaper, Al-Ayyam, published comments from a negotiator on Thursday that Abbas and Hamas are closer than ever to reaching an agreement on a moratorium on attacks. Such an accord would give Abbas an opportunity to open talks with Sharon on coordinating Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza later this year.

But analysts caution against too much optimism. "We need to be realistic," says Scott Lasensky, a senior researcher at the US Institute for Peace in Washington. "Israelis and Palestinians are still far apart when it comes to the core issues."


See also:

Abbas offers Hamas deal to end violence (Jan 22),3604,1396150,00.html
The new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has presented Hamas and its allies with proposals to end their war on Israel in return for international guarantees of a ceasefire, a political role in the Palestinian government and a commitment not to surrender the claim on east Jerusalem and other territory in any peace negotiations. Mr Abbas presented his plan at talks in Gaza City this week aimed at securing an end to Palestinian violence as a means of putting pressure on Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, to return to negotiations. CLIP

Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades ready for ceasefire with Israel (Jan 22)
GAZA CITY (AFP) - The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a Palestinian armed group linked to the mainstream Fatah faction, said it was ready to agree a mutual and conditional ceasefire with Israel. The group said in a statement that its conditions included that Israel announces a cessation of military operations, a halt to its policy of targeted assassination of militants and releases Palestinian prisoners. The announcement comes as new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas holds talks in the Gaza Strip with radical factions in a bid to win their agreement for a truce with Israel.

An Interview with Principal Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat: "Finish with Armed Factions"
Palestinians need peace and security. According to the Palestinian Minister charged with negotiations with Israel, however, the cessation of violence must be reciprocal. Mahmoud Abbas will be able to silence weapons only if Sharon on his side shows himself ready to make significant gestures.

Rafah border closed for 39 consecutive days - Report (19 January 2005)
Rafah Terminal, located on the Egyptian/Gaza Strip border, has been closed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) since 12 December 2004. This closure came in the immediate aftermath of an attack in the terminal area by Palestinian militants that killed five Israeli soldiers and injured five. Since then, there have been additional militant attacks in the Gaza Strip1. The IDF has also carried out a number of military operations in the territory2.The IDF has stated that building work continues on the terminal, which was extensively damaged during the 12 December attack, and it will not reopen for at least another six weeks. The terminal is effectively the only access point for Gaza Strip residents to areas outside the Gaza Strip. It has now been closed for 39 consecutive days, by far the longest period of uninterrupted closure in the last four years of the Intifada. Between 18 July and 5 August 2004, Rafah Terminal was closed for 19 consecutive days. This closure attracted widespread international attention because of the deteriorating humanitarian situation faced by as many as 2,500 people stuck south of the border. While the number of Palestinians waiting at the southern side of the terminal is now not more than 30, the restrictions placed on the terminal detrimentally affect a far greater number. Rafah Terminal is the only exit and entry point for the overwhelming majority of Gaza residents, so in effect more than 1.4 million people have not been able to leave the Gaza Strip. CLIP

Roadmap to Solution of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Elections Without Democracy


ii. Turning the Ceasefire Into Permanent Peace in Aceh


President promises reconstruction

January 22, 2005

The Indonesian president visited Banda Aceh's main mosque yesterday to express solidarity with tsunami victims, while the army claimed to have killed 120 rebels in local clashes since the disaster. On a visit timed for Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised to rebuild devastated areas of Aceh, the Sumatran province worst affected. "We are now developing a masterplan ... we will ... build infrastructure, build roads and revive the people's economy," he said.

He also pointed out that there could be foreigners - including troops - still present on Indonesian soil beyond the March 26 date touted last week as a deadline for the vast foreign relief effort to end." After March 26 there might still be an international presence, the equipment, the personnel or the expertise that are needed to continue the works," he said. His posture contrasts with that of his vice-president, Yusuf Kalla, and the armed forces, who more readily play the nationalist card.

Eager to re-assert its control over Aceh, which was closed because of military operations against rebels before the tsunami hit, the army said it had killed 120 separatists since the disaster. No independent confirmation of the figure was available, but sporadic outbursts of shooting indicate that the struggle to control Aceh continues.

Separatists led by the Free Aceh Movement say that they are holding to a ceasefire and only fire in self-defence. Indonesia's foreign ministry said on Thursday that it hoped for new peace talks before the end of the month. Analysts say that how well the government delivers relief and sympathy to the Acehnese will determine how sympathetic the local people remain to the separatist cause.



Phoenix Rising? Will the Bush Administration's Actions Move Aceh Towards Peace or a Continued Descent Into Destruction?

By Abigail Abrash Walton and Bama Athreya

Aceh, so long isolated from international view by the Indonesian government and military, is now ˆ tragically ˆ at the center of world attention. Members of the U.S. Congress and their staff, U.N. officials, journalists and humanitarian aid workers have arrived on the scene after years of blocked access. These shifts offer the Bush Administration and other actors an unprecedented opportunity for peace-building and enhancement of human security and stability in a region dominated by violent conflict for decades.

This report analyzes three key factors in responding effectively to the challenges of emergency aid and reconstruction efforts as well as long-term sustainable development and conflict resolution: 1) the role of the Indonesian military (TNI) in aid delivery and in ending the ongoing conflict; 2) the differences between Aceh's indigenous insurgents (Free Aceh Movement or GAM) and newly arriving extremist Islamic militias; and 3) the role of ExxonMobil in the province.

To ensure that the response to the tsunami contributes to both short-term relief and long-term peace and security for the people of Aceh, the Bush Administration must support Indonesian efforts at strengthening the country's civilian democratic governance and military reform. Above all else, this means ensuring that in the immediate and near term, the TNI plays a limited, non-managerial role in relief efforts.

To combat terrorism effectively, the U.S. arguably needs the friendship of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. Aceh's natural disaster offers an unprecedented opportunity for enhanced long-term human security. The way to achieve these goals is not by building ties with the very elements that engage in destructive violence there. It is by demonstrating that the U.S. is ready to contribute materially to peace-building, sustainable development and democratic reform. CLIP



Global Tsunami Death Toll Tops 226,000

Jan 19

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - The global death toll from the Asian tsunami shot above 226,000 Wednesday after Indonesia's Health Ministry confirmed the deaths of tens of thousands of people previously listed as missing.

The ministry raised the country's death toll to 166,320. It had previously given a figure of 95,450 while Indonesia's Ministry of Social Affairs had put the death toll at around 115,000 before it stopped counting.

Dodi Indrasanto, a director at the health ministry's department of health affairs, said the new death total reflected the latest reports from the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, which were directly in the path of the killer tsunami spawned by a magnitude 9 earthquake the day after Christmas.

The new figure lifted the total global death toll from the tsunami disaster to 226,566, although the number continues to rise as more deaths are reported around the region.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, speaking before the health ministry released its latest figures, told a donors conference in Jakarta that the true extent of the catastrophe defied description.

"Perhaps we will never know the exact scale of the human casualties," he said.

Indrasanto said the health ministry report, which had just 6,245 people still listed as missing, had been sent to Yudhoyono late Wednesday.

The ministry's figures said 617,159 people were still homeless in northern Sumatra more than three weeks after the killer wave struck.


The staggering death count came as Indonesia said it was hopeful of holding talks with rebels in Aceh, where the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has waged a bloody, three-decade long battle for independence from Jakarta's rule.

Security fears prompted by the GAM conflict have been a worrying backdrop to the massive international relief effort in Aceh, where huge stretches of coastline were laid waste by the earthquake and tsunami that followed.

"Behind the cloud there must be a silver lining. Behind the scenes, a process is happening toward reconciliation," Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said.

Wirajuda said he hoped the talks would take place by the end of the month, but he could give neither a date nor a place. A spokesman for GAM's exiled leadership in Sweden said there had been no progress on talks.

"We haven't had any concrete response from the Indonesian side," said Bakhtiar Abdullah.

A U.N. official in Meulaboh, the province's second city, said emergency aid drops would have to be sharply increased in order to avoid hunger in outlying areas.

GAM's leaders have repeatedly welcomed relief efforts spearheaded by the United Nations and the rebels have said they would not attack aid workers or convoys.


Political concerns have also plagued relief efforts in Sri Lanka, where the Tamil-rebel controlled northeast is waiting to see if it will get a piece of the government's $3.5 billion tsunami reconstruction program.

"The tsunami didn't wash away political divisions. In fact it may have made them worse," said Jehan Perera, director of the National Peace Council in Sri Lanka.

"What we have here is a moment that will define the peace process and politics for years."

Most of those swept up in the tsunami disaster -- which ripped coastal areas of Indian Ocean nations as far away as Africa and left more than 1.5 million people homeless around the region -- had far more pressing concerns.

Across Aceh's ravaged west coast, survivors were few and many villages were virtual ghost towns. In others, a mosque was the only building left standing.

In the province's second city Meulaboh, almost sliced in half by the killer wave, mountains of rubble smoldered and electricity was intermittent. But some shops and markets were busy, and food appeared to be available.

Daniel Augstburger, head of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the coastal city of Meulaboh, said not enough help was reaching people outside of major urban areas.

"The French are starting to move food, of course the Americans....are moving food out, but this has to increase ten-fold, I would say," Augstburger told Reuters, adding that tsunami victims also needed items such as clothes and cooking utensils.

In Sri Lanka, residents of a tsunami-ravaged town packed up and left -- ready to re-establish their community 1.5 km (about one mile) inland as a precaution against any other surprises from the sea.

"This will give our people a better future, a safer future," said fisherman M.J. Raseek, a resident of Hambantota who planned to follow his town away from the coast.

The International Monetary Fund said it hoped to approve Sri Lanka's emergency request for up to $160 million in assistance, while Indonesian officials told donors that the tsunami would likely cost the country around $4.5 billion.

Governments, aid groups, individuals, corporations and international agencies have pledged more than $7 billion in aid to Asia's tsunami victims.

But donors have to date promised just $739 million of the $977 million the U.N. system says is needed in emergency aid to meet the basic needs of victims over the next six months, according to Kevin Kennedy, a senior official of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



Will Indonesia seize its chance?

January 8, 2005

By Sidney Jones, Regional analyst

The tsunami disaster that struck Aceh could change the dynamics of the long-running conflict there between government forces and pro-independence fighters - but only if the relief effort is well handled.

If it isn't, resentment of Acehnese toward the central government could increase, and we could all be back to square one.

Aceh has a proud history of resisting outside rule.

It held out longer against the colonial administration than any other part of the old Dutch East Indies.

After enthusiastically joining the war of independence from the Netherlands, it embarked on armed rebellion in the early 1950s because Jakarta failed to deliver on promises to give it special status.

The current phase of the conflict began with the creation of the Free Aceh Movement - Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Gam) - in 1976.

By May 2003, when negotiations between Gam and the government broke down and the government declared martial law, Gam was thought to have about 5,000 armed fighters.

Damaged but intact

Last September, the Indonesian military claimed that since martial law, it had killed 2,879 Gam members, arrested 1,798 and accepted the surrender of 1,954.

Not all of these would have been armed regulars - indeed, it is likely that many of those killed were not Gam as alleged - but probably should be added to the official tally of some 600 civilians killed.

Few figures on the war are verifiable, and few claims can be taken at face value.

The general sense was that during almost a year and a half of intensive counterinsurgency operations, some 30,000 security forces had pushed Gam back into the hills, dealt a severe blow to the lower ranks of the organization, but left the leadership largely intact.

The tsunami hit only a few months into the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who promised during his campaign to look for non-military solutions to Aceh.

But he put no new ideas on the table and, in November, he extended the state of emergency in Aceh for another six months.


When the waves struck, Aceh had been closed to most foreign organizations and the international media for 18 months.

The relief and reconstruction efforts now underway will help keep Aceh open, and this in turn will likely lead to pressure for an end to the emergency.

It will not lead to negotiations with the rebels, because the military is dead set against the idea, convinced that talking is a sign of weakness, that it gives Gam legitimacy that it does not deserve, and that it would undo all its efforts to crush the insurgency by force.

Can military operations and a state of emergency co-exist with a huge international relief effort without running into serious friction?

If the Indonesian military continue to work alongside relief agencies and cannot separate its humanitarian and counterinsurgency roles, it could undermine what should be the apolitical nature of humanitarian relief.

Does the same person who helps construct new housing monitor the inhabitants and create new fears?

Taking the chance

There is less of a Gam presence in the Meulaboh area on the west coast than on the east, but Gam is never very far from the main road linking the cities of Banda Aceh and Medan, a vital artery for overland relief deliveries.

The first signs of such friction could produce two very different outcomes: more international pressure on the Indonesian government and Gam for a de facto ceasefire, or more restrictions on the agencies, hampering their efforts.

The military and other government agencies need also to understand how much depends on smooth aid flows.

In many parts of Aceh, dissatisfaction with the government tends to lead to support for Gam, despite the latter's none-too-stellar record on human rights.

If the government does not get in place a smooth machine for delivering aid, we are going to have anger at Jakarta, and in some areas, a new rationale for recruitment into the insurgency.

The problem is that the same old government institutions, mired in corruption, incompetence and inertia, have been mobilized for a task that is larger than they have ever had to handle before, and it is not clear that they are up to the job.

This disaster has created opportunities for conflict resolution. The question is whether anyone will seize them.

Sidney Jones is South East Asia Project Director of the International Crisis Group



Indonesia flashpoints: Aceh

Ever since Indonesia achieved independence in 1949, the Jakarta government has faced a constant battle to keep the nation's 13,000 islands together. Click on the map at for some of the main areas of conflict.


The mainly-Muslim province of Aceh has a long history of resisting outside powers.

Since the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) began its separatist campaign in 1976, at least 10,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

Hopes that a 2002 ceasefire could bring peace came to nothing when relations between the two sides broke down in May 2003.

Jakarta imposed martial law on the province, which was only lifted a year later.

Many Acehnese trace their problems back to 1949, when the Dutch recognised Indonesian independence after four years of guerrilla warfare.

Aceh became part of the Republic of Indonesia, despite not having been formally incorporated into the Dutch colonies.

The Indonesian Government used armed troops to annex the region, and the military's heavy-handed tactics fuelled resentment among the local population.

In 1959, in an effort to appease the Acehnese, Jakarta gave the province a special status which conferred a certain amount of autonomy, especially over religious and educational matters.

Aceh has a higher proportion of Muslims than other areas of Indonesia, and introduced Sharia law in 2002.

But despite the concession, many Acehnese continued to resent Jakarta's rule. A major point of contention was the revenue from the province's rich oil and gas resources, most of which went straight to the central purse.

Another government move which angered Aceh was President Suharto's policy of transmigration, in which many Indonesians from overcrowded Java were settled in the province, increasing competition for jobs.

After the fall of Suharto in May 1998, General Wiranto - then the head of the armed forces - ended the military's control over Aceh and publicly apologised for human rights abuses in the province.

But the low-level conflict with Gam continued, as the rebels refused to back down from their demands for a separatist state.

Hopes for peace in Aceh were raised when the two sides signed an agreement on 9 December 2002, which offered partial autonomy and free elections in exchange for rebel disarmament.

The deal collapsed in May 2003, when both sides failed to fulfil their side of the bargain. The rebels refused to give up their weapons, and the Indonesian military did not withdraw to agreed defensive positions.

On 19 May, Indonesia declared martial law in the province, and launched an all-out military offensive against Gam rebels.

During the campaign, security forces claim to have killed around 2,000 members of Gam and arrested another 3,000 - although no senior rebel commanders are thought to have been captured.

A year after it was first imposed, the martial law was downgraded to a state of emergency. But Aceh's problems are far from over, and there is still a heavy military presence in the province.



Free Aceh Movement

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM)), also known as the Aceh Sumatra National Liberation Front (ASNLF), is an armed Islamic group seeking independence for Aceh (sometimes given as Acheh, Achin or Atjeh) on Sumatra from the rest of Indonesia. The Indonesian government calls the group the Aceh Security Disturbance Movement.

The area had been granted special status by the government in 1959, allowing Islamic traditions and laws greater prominence. Centralizing tendencies of the government of Suharto led GAM to begin its campaign in the 1970s, issuing a declaration of independence and self-determination in 1976. The main perceived threats were to Acehnese religion and culture from the "neo-colonial" government and the rising numbers of Javanese migrants. The uneven distribution of income from Aceh's substantial natural resources was another point of contention. Despite these problems GAM does not have the support of the majority of the Acehnese people, if election results can be trusted.

At first the guerilla war of GAM was almost entirely unsuccessful, and the government appeared to have entirely neutralised the group by 1977. The group renewed its activities in the 1980s, apparently with financial support from Libya and Iran, fielding around 3,500 soldiers. Although it failed to gain widespread support, the group's actions led the government to institute repressive measures, which aided GAM by alienating the civilian population. The area was given "Operational Military" status from 1991 to 1995. Negotiations between the two sides, although improved by the toppling of Suharto, were endlessly broken off, and both the military and GAM were often accused of human rights abuses.

In 1996 the Indonesian government announced the end of GAM. The TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia) presence in the region was not greatly reduced and reports of arrests, torture, and extra-judicial killings continued. In 1999 a troop withdrawal was announced, but the military presence remains high and troop numbers are believed to have risen during the rule of Megawati Sukarnoputri to around 35,000 by mid-2002. Security crackdowns in 2001 and 2002 resulted in several thousand civilian deaths.

The leader of GAM, Hasan di Tiro, and his chief deputy, Zaini Abdullah, both reside in exile in Sweden. The group's main Indonesian spokesman is Abdullah Syafei'i Dimatang.

In 1999 it was reported that the group had split into two factions, ASNLF (representing the original group) and the Free Aceh Movement Government Council (MP-GAM). This has been denied by GAM spokespersons but widely reported by the Indonesian media.

On Tuesday, 28 December 2004, in the aftermath of the devastation caused by a massive tsunami, GAM declared a ceasefire of hostilities to allow for aid to reach within the disputed area. In turn, the Indonesian government removed restrictions on the flow of aid and foreign journalists to the area of northern Sumatra to allow for rescue efforts in that area.

Other Aceh separatist groups exist, and there is some tension between them and GAM over tactics and GAM's monopoly of negotiations with the government.


See also:

Tsunami cost Aceh a generation and $4.4bn (January 22, 2005),3604,1396019,00.html
UN assessment focuses on lost children and lost livelihoods - The first comprehensive study of the damage caused by the tsunami in Indonesia reveals a devastated society and a staggering number children killed and orphaned. The study by the World Bank and Indonesian government estimates the total bill for the destruction of property and businesses at more than $4.4bn (£2.34bn). About 700,000 people are homeless, and farmers, fishermen and others with small businesses have lost their livelihoods and cannot rebuild because they have no income. "The scale of the damages to the local economy, infrastructure, and administration were unprecedented. In an instant, the livelihoods and security of hundreds of thousands of the survivors were ruined," the joint report says. It concludes that only a massive international effort can rebuild the devastated areas. The biggest story of the disaster, says the report, is not the damage to the national economy, which was substantial, but the suffering of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have lost everything: members of their families, their homes, and any hope of making a living. CLIP

Indonesia says Aceh rebels killed
Indonesia's armed forces have killed 120 separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) in the last two weeks, the army chief of staff has said. General Ryamizard Ryacudu said troops were forced to take action because rebels were stealing aid meant for tsunami victims. Security forces launched a major campaign against Gam in May 2003 after the collapse of a peace process. But after the tsunami the two sides both claimed to have ceased operations. The rebels said such claims by General Ryacudu was black propaganda. "Why would we steal from our own people?" asked one rebel commander who was contacted by the BBC. There is no way of independently verifying the number of rebels the general says his men have killed.

ExxonMobil, Aceh and the Tsunami (January 4th, 2005)
ExxonMobil has contributed $5 million to the Tsunami relief efforts. In Aceh, the company operates one of the largest gas fields in the world and they're being sued for gross human rights violations.

Full Yahoo coverage on the Tsunami aftermath

iii. Creating an Atmosphere Conducive to the Peace Process in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka rebels say tsunami pushed politics aside

22 Jan 2005

By Simon Gardner

KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels said on Saturday they had put politics aside to clear up after the Asian tsunami, but added that swifter, fairer government aid distribution could boost peace prospects.

In contrast to their threat in November to resume a war for autonomy that killed 64,000 people, the rebels urged Sri Lanka's government to do more to build trust and open "new perspectives" for peace talks stalled for nearly two years.

"This is a sudden intervention of nature, for which we have to give total attention, leaving the political aspect aside," chief rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham said after top level talks between reclusive Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and Norwegian peace envoys.

"But that doesn't mean the tsunami waves have wiped out the political struggle," he added. "We want to see this human tragedy ... open up new perspectives ... so that we can work out a mutual solution to solve the ethnic problem."

Prabhakaran, who has lived in seclusion for much of the past 20 years for fear of assassination, rarely appears in public and did not address waiting journalists.

His aide Balasingham, who lives in London and flew to the rebel's administrative nerve-centre of Kilinochchi in the far north for Saturday's talks with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and peace envoy Erik Solheim, said the rebels still held concerns.

"Mr Prabhakaran has expressed his disillusionment that the government has not come forward with positive, confidence building measures to create mutual trust and understanding, which is crucial," Balasingham told a news conference.

"The government has to do more to win the goodwill of the Tamil people."

The Tigers have accused the government of blocking aid to areas they control. They appealed to donors for direct funding, saying aid should be distributed equitably between rebel-held parts of the north and east and the rest of the country.

"Apart from the delays in distribution of aid, we are also concerned that the government is using this monumental human tragedy as a means to strengthen their military structures," Balasingham added.


Analysts and diplomats said the handling of the tsunami clean-up could hold the key to hopes of converting a three-year truce into lasting peace after a brutal war that displaced thousands from their homes and choked the economy.

It took the devastating Dec. 26 tsunami, which the government says killed around 40,000 people across the ethnic divide along the southern, eastern and northern seaboard, to finally give the long-time foes a common goal.

The Tigers, who the United States have put on a list of banned terrorist groups alongside the likes of al Qaeda, are running their own camps for thousands of displaced families with the help of local and international aid groups.

But while the rebels have their own law college, restaurants and even speed camera-wielding police, years of civil war have decimated infrastructure in the north, deeply impoverished before the war and now strewn with landmines.

"It is a window of opportunity, because this is really a disaster which has hit everyone, and if they can develop a sense of common aims, I think that will be beneficial in the long run as well," Norway's Petersen said.

"If the two parties really manage to work well together, it might create an atmosphere which will be conducive to the peace process as well," he added before visiting the nearby fishing town of Mullaittivu, which was reduced to rubble by the tsunami.

The tsunami damage all along the coast is an eerie echo of the legacy of years of crossfire and shelling that left homes, schools and entire communities in ruins all across rebel held territory in Sri Lanka's north and east.

The Tigers want the right to govern the north and east of the country, including the government-held Jaffna peninsula, to be enshrined in the constitution. They already have de facto control over most of this area and regard it as their homeland of Tamil Eelam.

Talks between the Tigers and the Sinhalese government of Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga have been deadlocked for months over the government's insistence that the rebels agree to talk long-term peace first.


See also:

Sri Lankan rebels see "new perspectives" after tsunam (i22 Jan 2005)
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, (Reuters) - Tamil Tiger rebels held their first talks with Norwegian peace envoys since the tsunami on Saturday saying the disaster opened up new possibilities for a solution to Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict.

Tamil Tigers put politics aside, Norway urges Sri Lankans to work together (Jan 22)
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka (AFP) - Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels said they had put aside their political struggle to deal with the tsunami disaster, as peacebroker Norway urged all parties to work together to rebuild the battered country.

Sri Lankan government denies using aid money to purchase arms (January 23, 2005)
COLOMBO (AFP) - The Sri Lankan government has vehemently denied claims by Tamil Tiger rebels that it is using international aid for post-tsunami relief to purchase arms.

Sri Lanka profile

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