Ambassadors from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway visited Aceh on Jan. 4-5 to study the possibilities of working in various fields with the province.
During the two-day visit, the ambassadors — Ewa Polano from Sweden, Kai Sauer from Finland, Martin Hermann from Denmark and Stig Traavik from Norway — discussed potential areas of cooperation during meetings with local stakeholders, including civil society, businesspeople and the administration, represented by Aceh Governor Zainal Abdullah.
The Scandinavian countries have established close ties with Aceh, especially through their commitment to work together in creating peace in Aceh and during the post-tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation process.
The Swedish ambassador noted that her country’s relationship with Aceh had been established for dozens of years, dating back to when Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist leaders sought political asylum and resided in the country.
“Since the 1970s, Sweden has received a lot of asylum seekers and refugees from other countries and, as you know, we also received Dr. Zaini and honorable Malik Mahmud and many other GAM members who lived and worked in Sweden in exile for more than 30 years,” said Swedish Ambassador to Indonesia Ewa Polano.
The four countries have expressed different interests in Aceh’s potential and hoped they could cooperate with the province in the future in the fields of economics, politics, religious tolerance, basic human rights, women’s democratic participation, oil and gas, the environment and fisheries.
“We also come with the message of tolerance and we have discussed the recent human rights situation in Aceh. We also discussed religious tolerance in Aceh, the situation of women and topics related to the environment,” said Finnish Ambassador to Indonesia Kai Sauer, who acted as the head of the delegation.
Aceh’s resurgence the long conflict period and devastating tsunami greatly impressed the countries, thus encouraging them to invest in Aceh, especially in the province’s abundant in natural resources.
“Aceh has great potential and a tolerant society, and as the Danish ambassador, I would like to tell to the Danish business community that they should go and explore the possibilities to do business in Aceh,” said Danish Ambassador to Indonesia Martin Hermann.
The delegation also said that Aceh’s special autonomy status must also be handled with responsibility, especially in the fields of religious tolerance and discrimination against women.
“From a number of discussions, we also heard about the rise in religious intolerance and female discrimination in Aceh,” Hermann said.
According to Hermann, Scandinavian countries are very concerned about issues relating to religious intolerance and discrimination, including regulations that discriminated against women.
The delegation said that acts of intolerance and discrimination could disturb the investment climate in Aceh for foreign investors.
Lawmakers in the province have continued to spark controversy due to the issuance of a number of sharia-based regulations. Earlier this year, the Lhokseumawe administration, for instance, proposed a bylaw banning women from straddling motorcycles, arguing that the practice was “improper” in a province governed by Islamic law.
Lhokseumawe Mayor Suaidi Yahya said that women should sit sideways on motorcycles, with their legs dangling off to one side.
Source: The Jakarta Post