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Definition: Aceh from Collins English Dictionary

n

1 an autonomous region of N Indonesia, in N Sumatra; mountainous with rain forests; scene of separatist conflict since the later 1990s; coastal areas suffered badly in the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. Capital: Banda Aceh. Pop: 3 930 905 (2000). Area: 55 392 sq km (21 381 sq miles)


Summary Article: Aceh from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Province and autonomous district comprising the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia; area 55,180 sq km/21,305 sq mi; population (2001 est) 4,318,000. It was created as a separate province in 1966, with autonomy in religious and cultural affairs. The capital is Banda Aceh, situated on the Aceh river, 5 km/3 mi from the sea. The Acehnese people are Malay in origin and 98% are Muslims. The province is mountainous, the highest points being the forested volcanic Mounts Leuser (3,381 m/11,092 ft) and Abongabong (2,985 m/9,793 ft). Rice, maize, and yams are grown as staple crops, and copra, pepper, rubber, and areca nuts are produced for export. Lhokseumawe is an export terminal for Aceh's rich oil and natural gas reserves, found on the east coast.

Aceh has a long history of separatist uprisings against outside rule, fuelled by human rights abuse by the Indonesian armed forces and feelings of economic exploitation. As East Timor's struggle for independence intensified in 1999, many Acehnese demanded an independence referendum of their own. Violence and atrocities escalated in late 1999, with clashes between the Indonesian military and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakim Aceh Merdeka; GAM), a 5,000-strong guerrilla force led by Hasan di Tiro (a descendant of the last sultan of Aceh), which had been founded in December 1998.

Formerly the centre for the Pole Buddhist state in the late 5th-century, Aceh became, from the 13th century, one of the earliest centres of Muslim learning in Indonesia, and home to an advanced culture based on wet-rice cultivation. Historically, Egyptians, Arabians, and Indians traded in Aceh, contributing to the province's wealth and influence. Goods traded included pepper, gold, tin, ivory, tortoiseshell, sandalwood, and spices. Under Muslim rule from 1496, Aceh resisted Portuguese and Dutch attempts to establish trading settlements in the 17th century.

After a 25-year war, the Acehnese sultan surrendered to the Dutch in 1903, and was forced from the country in 1905. Aceh was incorporated into Indonesia in 1950, as the province of North Sumatra, but there was local resistance to Indonesian rule. This led to a rebellion in 1953.

In November 1999, around a million people attended a pro-independence rally organized by a coalition of students and human rights activists. With GAM in control of much of the province, Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid promised a future referendum on greater autonomy and introduction of sharia (Islamic law). In January 2000, at least 56 people were killed in clashes between GAM guerrillas and Indonesian forces. The unrest continued into 2001, leading to thousands of non-Acehnese fleeing the district. The Aceh rebels held peace talks with the Indonesian government representatives in Geneva, Switzerland, in early 2001. However, no settlement was reached, and in April President Wahid authorized his army commanders to restore law and order in Aceh, effectively resuming the war.

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