“Are we going to have a peace that’s moving forward and generally supportive of the democratic process, or are we going to have a peace categorized by fear and thuggery?” says Sidney Jones, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group consultancy.
A peace agreement signed in Helsinki, Finland, in 2005 granted special autonomy status to this conservative Islamic province – the only one in Indonesia ruled by strict Islamic law. It came just months after the Indian Ocean tsunami swept through, killing roughly 130,000 people in Indonesia.
The hope of the development community that poured into Aceh following that disaster was that money and aid could rebuild not just the physical infrastructure but also the institutions needed to usher in democracy. Billions of dollars went to programs aimed at reintegration and reconstruction.
Aceh now has a new port, smooth roads, and a sparkling city hall, but poverty and unemployment are among the country’s highest, industrial development remains in its infancy, and concerns over continued violence and corruption have kept investors at bay. Many former combatants, however, have grown rich by offering their support to provincial and district-level officials in return for lucrative infrastructure projects.