Indonesian atrocities and elections in Aceh

Developing Just Leadership

Jakarta Correspodent

Rabi' al-Awwal 10, 1436 2004-01-01

South-East Asia

by Jakarta Correspodent (South-East Asia, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 16, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1436)

Like occupied Kashmir, Chechnya and now Iraq, the northern Sumatran province of Aceh too is going through the ‘democratic’ process. As the notorious Indonesian National Army (TNI) has been pounding hapless villagers and ordinary citizens since its violent campaign began in May, Jakarta now has come up with the ingenious idea of an election in the strife-torn region, slated for April this year.

Oddly enough, this ‘democratic’ process is going to being held in tandem with the martial law imposed by Jakarta on May 18 this year, since which time thousands of villagers have been killed by military raids and aerial bombardment, and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes and live as refugees on the borders after being rejected by neighbouring countries. Officials in Jakarta had warned its smaller neighbours against granting asylum to Acehnese civilians even on humanitarian grounds, forcing tens of thousands to live in squalid homelessness. Last August, for instance, presidential hopeful Amien Rais, despite his reputation of being ‘anti-military’, issued a veiled threat to the Malaysian government, warning it against granting Acehnese asylum-seekers temporary stay. "I do believe that Malaysia is a friendly country and also a good neighbour," he said. The threat forced Kuala Lumpur to back down on its plan and close its shores, announcing that most of the Acehnese had agreed to repatriate ‘voluntarily’. The Malaysian regime was eager not to anger the huge Acehnese population living in Malaysia, many of whom have relatives who would like their government to help their war-affected brethren. The Indonesian government did not even spare Vanuatu, a tiny state in the south Pacific, whose government panicked and denied reports that it had allowed the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to establish an office there.

Having promised in May 2003 that it could ‘mop up’ the Aceh ‘rebels’ within six months, Jakarta was forced in November to extend its military rule for another six months, hoping to declare victory in time for the country’s general elections and the first presidential elections. The truth remains that the monstrous campaign of the Indonesian army has failed to quash GAM’s resolve to resist Javanese domination. The current campaign was launched amid much boasting from military generals and officials in Java, with many presidential hopefuls giving their support to the military; such nationalist (read Javanese) sentiments may prove to be popular for Javanese candidates in Java, whose electorate normally cast the bulk of the votes. But things are not as simple as they seem. With the liberalisation of the media after the end of Suharto’s rule and a more probing public, nationalistic sentiments seem to be secondary — public anger has been growing over the increasing atrocities by TNI and the astronomical expenditure on the military at a time when the country’s fate is being decided by the likes of the World Bank and IMF.

Even Java-based non-governmental organisations and human-rights campaigners have begun to see through the lies of TNI in its current campaign to "hold the country together". Although many disagree with the Acehnese ‘separatist’ movement, they nevertheless agree that the ‘democratic’ process now being put on for the Acehnese people is just a charade.

"I don’t think the Acehnese people will be given freedom of expression if the government insists on maintaining martial law here," said human-rights campaigner Todung Mulya Lubis after visiting the province with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesian minister for political and security affairs, who is one of the chief architects of the latest war in Aceh, on December 16.

Already Jakarta cannot hide its war crimes, and has to resort to repeating the mantra of odd figures and statistics, little realising that the Suharto era of fooling people wholesale has long gone. One example of this is when the military gave a "accurate" breakdown of casualties suffered by the ‘rebels’ in the first hundred days of hostilities: 752 rebels killed, 555 captured, 457 sympathizers surrendered and 335 types of weapons seized. On top of that, the army announced that the security situation in the province had "improved by 45 per cent"! How this figure was calculated is a mystery.

On December 18, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a 50-page report documenting the Indonesian military’s atrocities, including brazen murders of civilians. HRW also lamented the indifference to the situation in Aceh, and called on Jakarta to ‘open up’ Aceh. "The international community seems to have fallen somewhat silent," said spokesman Saman Zia-Zarif.

The details in the latest report resurrect memories of the many massacres and tortures long employed by TNI. One witness is quoted as saying in the report: "I saw one of the soldiers handcuff the ankles of this man, and then another soldier held him by his feet and swung him against a tree. The soldier did this many times so that the man’s head was hitting the tree. His brains were coming out of his head, until he was dead."

HRW also criticised the so-called ‘donor countries’ that pledged billions of dollars for Aceh’s "reconstruction" earlier this year, in particular those whom it called the ‘Quartet’: the US, the European Union, Japan and the World Bank. "It is time for the international community, led by the Quartet, to insist upon unfettered access for diplomats, journalists, human rights monitors and humanitarian aid agencies," said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. "Aceh needs to be top priority in the international community’s dealings with the Indonesian government and should be raised at every meeting."

On December 3, 2002, several months before Jakarta tore up its peace agreement with GAM, European member states, and also Australia and Japan, pledged billions of dollars’ worth of ‘aid’ to ‘develop’ Aceh. Japan, which has huge investments in Indonesia, had at that time contributed 4 billion yen to Jakarta for ‘reconstruction’, hoping to get a share of the huge economic potentials of the region. One form of Japanese investment in southeast Asia is moving its electronic industry to take advantage of the lower labour and production costs, and thus to maximise its profits from exporting goods to the rest of the world.

With its friends in the West, particularly the US and Australia, busy getting Jakarta’s support for the ‘war on terror’, little is expected from them, especially when Washington is controlled by a gang of former executives of American oil companies — the main culprits who worked hand-in-glove with Suharto in Aceh.

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