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Indonesia's Acehnese Suffer High Rates of Mental Trauma

Civilians in Indonesia's Aceh, which was wracked by a long-running civil conflict, suffer high rates of mental trauma that could trigger more violence, a report said Friday.

The report by the International Organisation for Migration and Harvard University, found that 35 percent of residents surveyed ranked high on symptoms for depression, 10 percent for post-traumatic stress disorder and 39 percent for anxiety.

The report sampled nearly 2,000 residents across 14 of Aceh's 19 districts where a 29-year conflict raged before a peace deal was struck two years ago. More than a quarter were beaten and 38 percent had had a family member or friend killed during the unrest between the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and government forces, the report said, according to an IOM press release.

The affected Acehnese, if left untreated, could possibly be triggers for further violence, the report's authors warned. "These memories are alive in the community, and they have the tremendous power to reproduce that violence," author Byron Good, from the Harvard's School of Social Medicine, said in the release. "These traumatised individuals can become stressors for the rest of their community."

The report calls on the government to fund mental health services, as well as on the international community involved in Aceh's post-tsunami reconstruction to incorporate psychosocial care as part of their programmes.

"Developing a mental health system that reaches these traumatised individuals, who are often located in remote, widely dispersed villages, is essential for Aceh's future," Good said. GAM and the government were brought to the peace table in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed 168,000 people in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

The conflict in Aceh, one of Asia's longest running, claimed at least 15,000 lives. The separatists dropped their claim for independence in return for more autonomy for Aceh under their 2005 peace deal.


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