Monday, January 17, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ Military? Again?

If you've never had experience dealing with TNI (military) in Indonesia as Acehnese, or Papuans, or other civilians in conflict areas in Indonesia have, you may think I'm biased and unfair. I believe we are entitled to the truth and the story other than 'sugar-coated' coverage. I keep reminding myself, time and again, that truth needs no ally!

Following are an invitation from International Herald Tribune to share your opinion on TNI as the sole acting command in the relief work in Aceh, also a press release from SIRA (Acheh Referendum Information Centre). The press release is in Indonesia... I'll translate it to English. Please check again later.

One encouraging news as of this afternoon... please check the last coverage: Threat to expel foreigners dropped.


Letters to Editor Opportunity - Share your opinion

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Topic: Is the TNI at all suited for relief work? Reports from most people on the ground and their history (which doesn't change overnight) suggest absolutely not. Provide alternative suggestions... Victims' needs first.

Trauma of being given 'aid' by a force that had until recently been considered as threatening and brutal.

International Herald Tribune
Saturday, January 15, 2005

Op-Ed Contributor
In Aceh, Indonesia Gets Tough
By Michael Vatikiotis

Meulaboh, Indonesia. Almost a month after the tsunami, the town of Meulaboh still reeks of death and misery. As I drove down the main street, named after the great Acehnese leader Teuku Umar, images of Dresden and Tokyo after the firebombings sprang to mind, even after some intensive cleanup. Relief workersare still digging out human remains here and there, and swarms of flies remind you of the presence of the dead.

But now there's a new threat to the poor people of Aceh Province as they pick over the ravaged remnants of their lives with the haunted look of trauma victims. Now that the relief operation is well underway, it's pretty clear that Indonesia, nervous about the thousands of foreign troops and aid workers on the ground, is moving fast to reassert its control over a province that until that fateful day in December was closed to foreigners and under martial law.

"I'm in charge here," said Major General Bambang Darmono, the clean-cut military officer who is the regional commander for Aceh, to a group of visiting Singaporean and Indonesian officials on Thursday. Outlining the late-March deadline for normalization - and justifying a polite notice for the army of foreign troops to leave by that time - Darmono said: "From today, we start to put in place a system. No one can go outside this system."

Darmono's three-month plan, counting from the date of the disaster, focuses on restoring infrastructure and managing the relocation of up to some 400,000 displaced people. "We plan to build 24 relocation camps; we will build temporary markets, schools and places of worship," he said. "Our objective is community development."

As good a plan as this sounds, it's hard to see how the Indonesian government, either its civilian or military institutions, can achieve these objectives without sustained outside help. But it was never realistic for the legion of foreign forces, now augmented by 900 troops from Japan, as well as sizable contingents from Australia, the United States and Singapore, to assume they would remain welcome for long.

It's a challenge most acutely felt by the Singaporean commander on the ground in Meulaboh, Colonel Tan Chuan Jin. Here in this most devastated part of Aceh, the Singapore military was the first to hit the ground, five days after the disaster. In an operation that has endeared Singapore to the local people, a combined military force of some 900 personnel brought two amphibious landing ships to the town's picturesque bay, forged a landing so that heavy equipment and supplies could be brought onshore, and used a special plant to distil fresh waterfrom the murky brown soup the local people were wading around in. "As far as I'm concerned, the Singaporeans can be considered as sons of the soil around here," said an elderly Acehnese man sipping coffee in a recently reopened market on the town's less-damaged outskirts.

But Colonel Tan, who until recently was Singapore's army attaché in Jakarta, has no illusions. "The Indonesian is in control here, so we don't make a move without conferring with them - it's a very sensitive issue," he said watching a Singaporean medical team minister to Meulaboh's sick and needy, while in the next tent, an Indonesian military-run pharmacy looked poorly stocked and just as poorly attended.

On one level, it is understandable that Indonesia's poorly trained and poorly paid conscripts, many of whom lost family and friends in the disaster, are not the best tools for a rapid relief deployment. Even Meulaboh's pugnacious army commander, Colonel Geerhan Lantara, admits that it took a while before he could organize his men into a coherent and effective relief force - though he insists that is now happening.

But local people see a stark contrast between the unarmed and businesslike foreign troops from friendly countries, and their heavily armed and poorly organized Indonesian counterparts. In Meulaboh, I saw Indonesian troops mostly patrolling in trucks, manning checkpoints and lolling around piles of automatic weaponry.

All the same, saving Aceh has to be an Indonesian achievement - if only to elevate the country's badly damaged self-esteem. So as I watched the slick Power Point presentations that promised so many relocation camps and schools and hospitals by the end of the period General Darmono outlined, I was hoping that at least some of it can be achieved, and that foreign help will continue to be welcomed.

If not, as Geerhan implied, the army will have failed the people of Aceh - and that only means that the tsunami's legacy will be more war, and not peace.


Siaran Pers
Nomor: 06/DP-SIRA/B/I/2005

Militer Indonesia Ingin Menguasai Lagi Acheh

Keputusan pemerintah Indonesia (Perintah Presiden Bambang Yudhoyono) tentang pembatasan waktu sampai 26 Maret 2005, telah mengkhawatirkan bagi relawan Internasional yang sedang menjalankan misi kemanusiaan di Acheh. Pembatasan ini akan berakibat buruk terhadap penanganan korban bencana gempa dan gelombang tsunami, yang sampai sekarang masih banyak mayat-mayat yang belum selesai diangkut dan diangkat dari reruntuhan bangunan dan tempat-tempat yang belum disentuh seperti di Pulau Breuh Acheh Besar. Keberadaan relawan Internasional sangat diperlukan untuk membantu korban bencana tsunami serta membantu proses rekonstruksi di Acheh, karena pemerintah Indonesia sendiri telah gagal untuk menangani semua hal tersebut di atas. Oleh karena itu pemerintah Indonesia tidak berhak untuk membuat batasan-batasan waktu terhadap relawan Internasional di Acheh.

Sentral Informasi Referendum Acheh (SIRA) sangat prihatin dengan perintah Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yang tidak memiliki hati nurani dalam menyelesaikan berbagai persoalan di Acheh. Pemerintah SBY selalu mengedepankan pendekatan refresif dan perang, ini bisa kita lihat dengan memberi batasan waktu untuk mengusir relawan internasional dan hanya dua tempat yang dibolehkan keberadaan relawan asing, sedangkan di tempat-tempat lain tidak boleh didatangi relawan Internasional. Kebijakan ini adalah untuk menutupi berbagai pelanggaran hak asasi manusia (HAM) dan tindakan kebrutalan militer Indonesia terhadap masyarakat sipil di daerah-daerah selain Banda Acheh dan Melaboh.

Kami melihat kebijakan pembatasan tentara asing di Acheh lebih dipicu oleh keinginan pemerintah Indonesia untuk mendominasi rekontruksi Acheh, padahal seperti terlihat selama ini, pemerintah tidak mampu menanggulangi bencana di Acheh jika tanpa bantuan internasional. Pemerintah Indonesia melihat keberadaan militer dan relawan asing di Acheh akan menghalangi niat pemerintah khususnya TNI/Polri untuk menguasai Acheh. Selain itu juga, agar proses rekontruksi Acheh bisa berjalan seperti harapan mereka, sehingga tidak terjamin akuntabilitas. Bakal banyak terjadi penyimpangan anggaran dalam proses rekontruksi Acheh jika tidak dikontrol oleh Internasional.

SIRA juga menyambut baik terhadap himbauan Perserikatan Bangsa-bangsa (PBB), agar pemerintah Indonesia tidak membatasi keberadaan bantuan dan militer asing di Acheh (detik, 14/01). Keberadaan tentara asing mutlak diperlukan sampai ada proses penyelesaian politik Acheh secara konfrehensif antara Pemerintah Indonesia dengan Gerakan Acheh Merdeka (GAM). Serta proses rekontruksi Acheh berjalan sebagai harapan masyarakat Acheh dan Internasional.

SIRA juga meminta kepada PBB dan Negara-negara yang selama ini sedang membantu Acheh untuk tetap berada di Acheh, karena kebaradaan PBB di sana adalah harapan dan keinginan rakyat Acheh, rakyat Acheh sudah tidak percaya lagi dengan pemerintah Indonesia.

Jakarta, 15 Januari 2005
Sentral Informasi Referendum Acheh (SIRA)

Nasruddin Abubakar
Dewan Presidium


Source: Guardian
Date: 17 Jan 2005

Threat to expel foreigners dropped
Indonesia rescinds deadline for aid workers to leave

By John Aglionby in Jakarta

Indonesia backtracked yesterday on its ruling that thousands of foreign troops and aid workers involved in the tsunami relief effort in Aceh would have to leave the province by the end of March.

After meeting America's deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, the defence minister, Juwono Sudarsono, said the date was now a target for Indonesian officials to take over most of the work and not a deadline for foreigners' expulsion.

"We would like to emphasise that March 26 is not a deadline for involvement of foreign military personnel in the relief effort," Mr Sudarsono said. "It is a benchmark for the Indonesian government to improve and accelerate its relief efforts, so that by March 26 the large part of the burden of the relief effort will be carried by the Indonesian government and Indonesian authorities."

Several senior Indonesian officials, including the vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, had said most foreign troops and aid workers would have to end their missions within three months of the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 115,000 people in Aceh and left some 700,000 dependent on aid.

Mr Sudarsono said he expected Indonesia's air force to have expanded its capacity within the next two months.

Aircraft are at a premium because so many roads in Aceh have been destroyed, most notably the main road down the west coast of Sumatra.

Much of the airlifting is currently being done by US, Australian, Malaysian, Singaporean and British aircraft because most of Indonesia's air force is moribund following six years of economic crisis.

Indonesia's military chief, General Endriartono Sutarto, also dismissed the speculation about the expulsion of foreigners. He said the announcement was merely a "wake-up call" to Indonesians to work harder.

"We have to be self-sufficient," he said. "We cannot be dependent on foreign aid. So we just want all Indonesians involved in the aid operation to work as hard as possible so we can restore our pride."

Jakarta-based diplomats said they were not surprised by the U-turn, because restricting foreigners would have jeopardised future aid to Indonesia.

"And besides, the Indonesians just can't do it by themselves," one said. "They haven't got the money, the skills or the resources."

Indonesia has announced it will send about 10,000 extra soldiers to Aceh this week to help with the clean-up.

Foreign troops are also continuing to stream in.

An advance party for a 1,000-strong contingent of Japanese troops arrived in Banda Aceh yesterday, the largest Japanese relief force to be deployed overseas.

Acehnese aid workers were delighted that foreigners would now be staying longer, because they believe their presence reduces local people's stress.

"I would say about two-thirds of the Acehnese either do not trust the Indonesian military or actively fear them," one worker said, on condition of anonymity.

"For decades the Indonesian military has been terrorising the Acehnese as it tries to crush the separatists. With foreigners here that is no longer possible to the same extent."

Indonesia has been fighting the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) since 1976. The conflict has cost about 14,000 lives and prompted widespread accusations of human rights abuses. Indonesia has used the potential Gam threat as an excuse to restrict foreign aid missions' travel in Aceh.

GAM, which has offered a ceasefire and negotiations with Jakarta to discuss the best way to get aid to the tsunami survivors, claims the government is using a nonexistent threat as an excuse to clamp down on outsiders.

Budi Atmadi, operations chief of the government's disaster relief team, said that while foreign aid workers would not be expelled, those entering the province for political purposes would not be allowed to stay.

"We have heard that some foreigners who do not want to help with the aid operation but stir [up trouble] have already come in," he said without specifying any individuals or organisations. "When we find them we will expel them."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Note: Guardian Unlimited has special report on tsunami disaster in Indonesia... please follow this link: Special Report ~ Indonesia.

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