Dividing Aceh? Minorities, Partition Movements and State-Reform in Aceh Province

Posted: 30 Nov 2010

Date Written: May 1, 2010


One under-researched dimension of conflict in Aceh is the relationship between the ethnic Acehnese majority and the province's various ethnic minority groups, such as Gayo, Alas, Kluet and Singkil. This relationship has recently come to the forefront of politics in Aceh, due to the emergence of two movements advocating for the partition of Aceh and the creation of two new provinces, Aceh Leuser Antara (ALA) in the central Aceh highlands and Aceh Barat Selatan (ABAS) along the southwest coast. This development is seen by many observers as one of the greatest challenges to peace and stability in Aceh. While Indonesian law provides for the creation of new provinces, the establishment of ALA and ABAS would contradict the peace process, which is based on the premise of a single territory.

Arguments put forward by advocates of provincial partition include claims of underdevelopment and political and cultural marginalization of ethnic minorities by Acehnese-dominated provincial politics. Building on field research undertaken in October and November 2009, this paper investigates these claims, by exploring the history of Aceh's partition movements, their relationship to the conflict, the grievances underlying the movements and the political dynamics at the district, provincial and central level driving them. The paper concludes by elaborating on the movements' status and prospects as well as their implications for future peace and stability in Aceh.

The paper demonstrates that partition is an implausible solution to the genuine grievances underlying the ALA and ABAS movements and would likely lead to further conflict. Effectively addressing these grievances will involve provisions that are similar in nature, but not in scale, to what Acehnese have accomplished as a result of their struggle, some degree of devolution, representation and greater autonomy in areas such as natural resource management, economic development, language and education. Reform should utilize sub-provincial levels of government and take place within the framework of Aceh's special autonomy.

Keywords: Indonesia, Aceh, ALA/ABAS, minorities, decentralization, Pemekaran

Suggested Citation

Ehrentraut, Stefan, Dividing Aceh? Minorities, Partition Movements and State-Reform in Aceh Province (May 1, 2010). Asia Research Institute Working Paper No. 137, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1716587 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1716587

Stefan Ehrentraut (Contact Author)

University of Potsdam ( email )

August-Bebel Strasse 89

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