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Indonesia's Aceh struggles to integrate former rebels fairly

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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.

The contrast is evident in Bireuen, a stronghold of former Gov. Irwandi Yusuf, who Abdullah officially unseated by winning 55 percent of the vote in April 9 elections.

Along the ruined road to the village where Bahri lives, a siren-red Mercedes Benz slinks by modest thatch-roofed houses. Elsewhere, homes with cathedral windows and gaudy statues sprout from rice fields.

Bahri says life is better now that he doesn’t have to carry a gun, but it bothers him that some of his former comrades have benefited so much more from the peace agreement than others.

“Before we were together as rebels, and now they’ve forgotten about us,” he says, casting his eyes down at the table before continuing. “Some ex-combatants, including me, feel it would be better to have war again so everyone would be equal.”

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