Massacre of Muslims in Aceh-Sumatra revives calls for independence

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Hamid Papang

Muharram 30, 1420 1999-05-16

South-East Asia

by Hamid Papang (South-East Asia, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 6, Muharram, 1420)

The people of Indonesia will go to the polls on June 7, with the world’s eyes on east Timor which has been promised autonomy or even total independence. But meanwhile the military continues to perpetrate atrocities in Aceh-Sumatra, despite Indonesia’s army chief general Wiranto’s, apology last August for its decade-long genocide.

At least 40 people were gunned down at Cot Murong outside the industrial town of Lhokseumawe in Aceh on May 3, exactly three months after a similar massacre at Idi Cut near Koramil when 50 people were killed. The military’s chief spokesman admitted to 28 deaths but dismissed them as merely the result of a ‘misunderstanding.’ Both the Aceh-Sumatra National Liberation Front and the Student Solidarity with the People (SMUR) rejected the military’s excuses.

Even the Jakarta Post, considered by many as a mouthpiece for the establishment, denounced the killings. It wrote that such explanation “reflects the military’s absolute insensitivity to the feelings of people in Aceh... to dismiss this incident as a misunderstanding is tantamount to saying ‘what’s another 28 lives or so?’ Disturbing as it is, it fits the pattern of the military’s long record of human rights abuses in the province dating back to 1989.” (May 6, 1999.)

President B J Habibie has expressed regrets for past atrocities against the Acehnese people. But the military, it seems, has its own agenda. Even while the chief military spokesman was describing the latest killings as a ‘misunderstanding,’ the local military commander in Aceh said it was ‘self-defence.’

The Jakarta Post was unimpressed by this claim and demanded: “If the shooting was in self-defence against an armed mob, it begs the question why were there no casualties among soldiers? And why were women and children among the casualties? Did the villagers misunderstand the soldiers, or was it the other way round?”

The paper also dismissed as ‘hollow’ general Wiranto’s promise of a full investigation. He is also the minister of defence and security. Previous fatal incidents have never been explained satisfactorily. Similarly, the paper expressed a lack of confidence in the ability of the National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas Ham) to investigate, saying the commission was ‘overstretched’ and had only limited resources.

In view of its backlog of unresolved cases from Aceh and other provinces, and with its power limited to conducting investigations, little can be expected from another Komnas Ham mission to Aceh. Its activities are seen as a whitewash to placate the people.

After Suharto’s downfall a year ago, many Acehnese men and women came forward to testify about the thousands of extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and rape. At least 12 mass graves were investigated and torture centres well known to local residents were identified. Not a single officer has been disciplined, much less punished for such horrendous crimes.

These atrocities had taken place during the period when, from 1989 onwards, Aceh-Sumatra had been declared a ‘military operational zone’ (DOM). This status was ended last year. This year, however, the army has perpetrated more atrocities, under the special military operation, Operasi Wibawa ‘99. Clearly nothing has really changed.

There is now palpable anger in Aceh, where even ordinary people are turning against the military’s brutality, and question the point is of the president apologising while the army continues massacring innocent civilians. Before the Cot Murong killings, Aceh university students and youths were campaigning for a referendum to review the province’s status in the republic. Some Aceh leaders, including the province’s governor, professor Symsuddin, had proposed the idea of a federation for Indonesia. Now the most popular slogan is total independence.

Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1999

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