However daunting the problems facing President Abdurrahman Wahid now that at least 600,000 Acehnese have backed the call for a referendum on the province's future, it is abundantly clear that the new regime has already altered the face of Indonesian politics. Weeks ago, a rally of any size that represented opposition to the central authority would have been crushed. Yesterday not one uniform was in sight. But peace on the streets does not mean the threat to unity has receded. Mr Wahid knows Aceh is the greatest challenge to his authority. He must find a formula to bridge the gap between the growing call for independence and his need to hold the country together. Unlike East Timor, Aceh is a resource-rich province that has seen 90 per cent of its wealth creamed off by Jakarta. Producing a third of the country's natural gas, and some 20,000 barrels of oil daily, it can comfortably contemplate the prospect of separation. Resentment over Jakarta's disproportionate share of the riches from the resources has been simmering since the 1950s when the separatist movement took hold. Before then the province supported Indonesian nationalism, but the army's suppression of dissent and its human rights abuses, leading to displacement and hundreds of deaths, has increased unrest. If Aceh goes, others are bound to follow, threatening the break-up of Indonesia. That is not a prospect Jakarta will tolerate. President Wahid is perhaps the only leader with the background to find a solution. But it can only be compromise, and in the present climate there is a possibility of further clashes. If he can maintain the move to a civil society, keeping the military in check, while finding a deal acceptable to the Acehnese, Mr Wahid may be able to resolve the dilemma. But he must act quickly. Promises have been given many times before, and broken. This time, the alternative to settlement is too unpleasant to contemplate.