|Aceh: Paradise Rediscovered|
|The shaping of policy at UNODC (2002-2010)|
Posted: 1 February 2013
Can you think of a region so poor that income is less than one dollar a day per person: that has gone through a war against the central government for 30 years (1975-2005); that in 2004 was submerged by a tidal wave (the tsunami) that killed 170,000 people out of a total population of 3 million (in other words 1 person out of every 20); that was later submerged by an avalanche of assistance personnel that pushed local prices beyond what locals could afford?
Well, let me help you.
The Aceh peninsula of Northern Indonesia, along the strategic Malacca Straits, is where I went on mission yesterday, with a delicate task: to determine the extent of drug production (cannabis cultivation); trafficking (hashish and methamphetamine); the associated crime and violence; the health impact (including the spread of HIV because of drug-injection); and, above what can be done to put an end to all this through development.
I was impressed by what I saw: things may be looking up.
The agreement, struck right after the tsunami between the central government in Jakarta and the Aceh Independence Movement (AIM), has established the basis for revenue and power sharing. It also provided evidence that normality may return to a part of the world not so distant from heaven: luscious vegetation, permanently good weather, green unpolluted sea, kind and generous people, colorful tradition, wonderfully natural food - with flowers and wildlife that make your head spin as you cross meadows and climb unspoiled hills. They are also blessed with some of the biggest reserves of natural gas on the planet.
I was accompanied to Aceh by General I Made Mangku Pastika, head of the Indonesian Narcotic Control Board (BNN) - and a national hero for catching the Bali bombers within weeks of the blast - who showed me the extent of the drug cultivation. He stressed the importance of having the international community help promote development in the peninsula in order to curtail drugs, crime and violence. Kind and soft spoken, General Pastika was Asia's Man of the Year for Time Magazine in 2003: a fully deserved recognition, and it was an honor to be by his side.
I was driven around personally by the elected Governor Irwandi Yusuf, a former commander of the AIM who had the wisdom to announce a unilateral truce the day after the tsunami hit -- and then went on to negotiate with the central government a comprehensive peace agreement and resulting autonomy (no independence, of course) for his region.
I met a whole score of insurgents (now again farmers), proud of their acts of war, as well as federal army and police officers who -- at a very high human cost -- had fought bitterly to prevent the separation of Aceh from the motherland.
And above all I met, spoke, and broke bread with local people. It gave me a better appreciation of the hard life faced by the farmers and fishermen who are nevertheless happy that the way ahead seems to be brighter - after being battered by poverty, conflict and nature.
UNODC can help. My Office has been tasked by the national government to prepare a comprehensive program to replace cannabis cultivation with sustainable alternative forms of development. This is part of a bigger strategy to double incomes in the next four years. We are pleased for the excellent cooperation of the Thailand's Mae Fah Lung Foundation that, with its rich Doi Tung experience, is providing technical assistance on the ground.
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