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Peace after Aceh Tsunami: a Co-operative Revelation


I flew from Ottawa to attend a wedding celebration of my niece on 26th December 2004 in Bandung, Indonesia. Alas, this festivity was severely disrupted by the overwhelming news about the giant Tsunami that raged along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean, which followed a 9.2 magnitude earthquake.


My great anticipation of a celebratory wedding morphed into a gloomy atmosphere of hope and despair after seeing the enormity of the natural disaster. Aceh in Indonesia, which is the worst hit, lost 220,000 lives. More tragic was the fact that this disaster occurred during a period of an armed conflict between a separatist movement called “GAM” (Free Aceh Movement) and the Indonesian army, killing over a thousand civilians, and with close to 500 still missing.


My inner compassion, and a lifetime career with co-operatives, took me to Banda Aceh, the Capital City, in less than a month after the catastrophic Tsunami, where I could still see dead bodies being lifted from the streets near the Ule Lhe beach and the Krueng Aceh River. I first went there with my friend Lydia from the Canadian Co-operative Association, and returned again soon thereafter as envoy of the International Co-operative Alliance to reconstruct and rehabilitate co-operatives shattered by the tsunami.


Reconstruction was no doubt very onerous. We had to transport needed supplies to fishery co-ops in Lhok Ngha and Lhok Suedu along the western coastline of Aceh through damaged roads and bridges. Not to mention the difficult task of having to attend to emotional needs of traumatized survivors.


However, the more difficult prospect was to reconstruct those in the eastern coastline facing the Andaman Sea, because human rights violations by government troops and the GAM rebels ensued with impunity. We were unable to travel to the Sigli in the district of Pidie as frequent ambushes were still taking place during the first half of 2005. Recovery efforts for two peaceful fishery co-ops, i.e. “Bahari Karya” and “Panti Raja” in Pidie district, were basically stalled.


Notwithstanding the enormity of the Tsunami, it fortunately opened a critical opportunity to end the conflict because human lives in the entire province would have been more severely affected and endangered should the warfare have persisted. Mediated by former President of Finland M. Ahtisaari, GAM finally dropped its demand for Independence and an agreement was reached and signed on August 15, 2005.


Towards the end of 2005, our work of reconstructing five pilot co-operatives destroyed by the disaster became fairly conducive. One co-operative in Bireuen even had a number of previous GAM rebels as members, creating beautiful ornaments made from leftover and unused weaponry, under the fine leadership of Teuku Nasarudin, one of the GAM leaders who made a wise decision to develop and rebuild communities through co-operative means rather than to engage in politics. He truly believes that co-operatives are powerful instruments to promote and sustain PEACE in communities, and so it has been!


By: Robby Tulus, Asia-Pacific Regional Director (Emeritus) for Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) & International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), based in Ottawa.

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