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Indonesia's Aceh struggles to integrate former rebels fairly

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A return to wholesale, organized conflict is unlikely, says Ed Aspinall, a political professor who specializes on Aceh at Australian National University. But “sporadic, low-level squabbles over economic access” are “certainly possible.”

Many former rebels are unemployed, lacking basic skills needed to fish or farm, while money from a state assistance program aimed at easing the transition has been unevenly distributed.

Samsul Bahri, a cocoa farmer tasked with guarding his village during the rebellion, says he received a one-time lump sum of Rp 500,000 (roughly $55), a quarter of his current monthly salary.

“It’s nothing,” he says, explaining that funds from the reintegration program only went to two of the former combatants in his village, who then split them among the 30 others.

Within political circles, meanwhile, some former rebels have grown rich on lucrative development contracts in return for supporting provincial and district-level officials.

Powerful political brokers

Part of the problem comes from GAM’s former military wing, which was transformed into a transitional body popularly known as the KPA and tasked with seeing that ex-combatants got jobs.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group, which keeps a close eye on developments in Aceh, says that in some places the KPA has become, “a thuggish, Mafia-like organization.”

“Senior KPA members have not just received jobs; they have become powerful political brokers and businessmen demanding and usually receiving a cut on major public projects,” the Crisis Group report says.

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