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3 Separatist movement
Aceh possesses one of Indonesia's largest reserves of oil and natural gas. A number of multinational corporations, such as Exxon Mobil, maintain a presence in Aceh.
It is believed that Islam first entered Southeast Asia through Aceh in the 8th century. In the 18th century, the Islamic kingdom of Aceh was involved in a power struggle between British and Dutch colonial interests.
In 1824, the Anglo-Dutch treaty was signed, effectively giving the Dutch control of British possessions in Sumatra. The Dutch agreed to allow the independence of Aceh, possibly to serve as a buffer state. In 1871, the British allowed the Dutch to invade Aceh, possibly to prevent the French from gaining a foothold in the region. The Dutch found gaining control of Aceh difficult: Acehnese guerrilla activity lasted until World War II.
In 1949, the Dutch handed their colonial possessions to Indonesia, including the Kingdom of Aceh. Indonesian troops were dispatched to annex Aceh, causing resentment to what Acehnese view as foreign occupation. In 1959 the Indonesian government yielded and gave Aceh a "special territory" status, giving it a high degree of autonomy in a number of matters. This placated a number of Acehnese, but a pro-independence movement still remains.
There is a view among the Acehnese that Jakarta exploits Aceh's natural resources, while leaving the region impoverished. Religion is another factor: the majority of Indonesia's muslims are secular compared to the more devout Acehnese (Acehnese still distance themselves from fundamentalist Islam). Culturally, Aceh is also distinct from mainstream Indonesia. The Indonesian government's policy of culturally 'unifying' the entire archipelago to increase stability is unpopular among Acehnese (as well as a number of other ethnic groups).
In 2002 the separatists and the Indonesian government agreed on a peace plan. However it collapsed in early 2003 and the government imposed martial law and began a large-scale offensive in the region. In November 2003 the martial law was extended for a further six months.
See also: Free Aceh Movement