In 1976, local leaders in the Indonesian province of Aceh launched an armed insurgency against the government in Jakarta with the goal of achieving independence. The conflict gradually escalated throughout the 1990s, with armed groups organised under the banner of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) making territorial gains and establishing alternative administrations in the areas it controlled. In 1998, the Indonesian military launched a sweeping offensive against GAM positions but was unable to achieve an outright victory.1 In 1999, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue hosted the first talks between the Indonesian Government and GAM.2 These led to further meetings in Geneva, which in turn produced a ceasefire that lasted from May 2000 until April 2001, when the Indonesian government launched another military offensive. Although unsuccessful, the 1999-2001 negotiations laid the groundwork for a lengthy peace process.3
Further talks took place in 2002, resulting in the signing of another ceasefire and an invitation for a small monitoring mission composed of Thai and Philippine personnel to be deployed.4 Some parts of this agreement were implemented, but in 2003 the Indonesian government imposed martial law and launched yet another major military operation against GAM. After this offensive failed to achieve its objectives, a new Indonesian was elected in April 2004. In November 2004, the former President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, and his Crisis Management Initiative began mediating a fresh round of talks between the new government and GAM.5 These negotiations gained a greater sense of urgency the following month when an earthquake struck just off the Acehnese coast, devasting the area and costing the lives of 160,000 citizens of Aceh. This disaster understandably changed the dynamic of the conflict considerably and in January 2005, Ahtisaari hosted representatives of both parties in Helsinki to continue the peace process.6 These talks culminated in August 2005 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, which ended the conflict and outlined a framework for increased autonomy for Aceh within Indonesia.7 The terms of the Memorandum also stipulated that the EU and ASEAN (represented by Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia) should establish a mission to monitor implementation. After almost three decades of armed conflict which cost the lives of 15,000 people and a devastating tsunami, Aceh was at peace.