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The demonstration effect: Natural resources, ethnonationalism and the Aceh conflict

by John F. McCarthy
Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography ()
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The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami brought Aceh's long-drawn separatist conflict back to international attention. Yet, the precise way in which the different aspects of the conflict entangled with resource-related grievances have remained poorly understood. Taking a political ecology approach, this paper sets out to understand the role of natural resource grievances within the complex and shifting set of mutually implicated factors leading to and sustaining the conflict from the early days of Indonesia's independence. The paper argues that the management of Aceh's natural resources 2013 especially the rich gas and oil reserves 2013 was not the sole or primary causal factor. Rather, state managed exploitation of natural resources had a demonstration effect, exemplifying other grievances and supporting the articulation of a separatist discourse naturalizing 'Acehnese' conceptualizations of resource entitlement. Comparing Aceh with other separatist conflicts, the paper suggests that, as conflict unfolds at the intersection of a shifting set of concerns, it is increasingly difficult to separate the underlying issues of identity, resource entitlements and human rights.

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