Aceh’s long isolation from the outside world has delayed much needed attention to the aftermath of this calamity in its own backyard. During its internal conflict especially in the past two and half years the Operation Command - Indonesian National Military Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (Komando Operasi TNI NAD) has been the central authority to distribute news coverage to the outside world, national and international. [The site can be found here (in Indonesian): www.koops-tni-nad.mil.id]. During Indonesian activists’ visits at different dates in 2004 to Canada they mentioned about it ~ that the controlled coverage has pretty much deflected if not discounted the truth. It has reasonably estranged Aceh from the rest of the country.
The powerful grip on media coverage in Aceh has proven to be very successful in creating false perception of all Acehnese as dangerous rebels and Moslem extremists. The human rights activists in Aceh have even been considered as traitors. The threats were real: Kontras (Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence) Aceh had to close its office, Kontras Jakarta received ‘organized’ attacks, and Jaffar Siddik Hamzah (former coordinator of International Forum on Aceh) was reported missing when he returned to Indonesia, and his decayed body was later found in Tanah Karo region in North Sumatera. The pattern of intimidation and attacks are so typical of those from the military and police. Virtually all large-scale atrocities happened throughout the Republic of Indonesia’s history since her independence have had strong indication of military/police involvement ~ many studies and human rights reports have acknowledged it too.
Deep inside my heart I really hope that the government of Indonesia, especially the military and police who are in charge in Aceh, could take this opportunity to show their goodwill to provide relief and stability to Acehnese during this tribulation. But, the gap of dream and reality is not that easy to close. As you can read in my “Crisis in Aceh” series, there are a lot of coverages on military’s (or authority) sole role in controlling relief distribution as well as their ongoing engagement in security measures with the so-called ‘GAM’ beyond the tsunami-hit areas. As a broken record they always plays the same old ‘song’ ~ they have denied, over and over gain, any wrongdoings on their part.
When I asked my friends in Indonesia whether they heard military/police abuses towards Acehnese, especially during the aftermath of tsunami disaster, most of them said that they’re not aware of military abuses in Aceh. What they heard and saw on TV were brave and good soldiers who helped most of the people while they also lost their families. Nancy even told me that a UNICEF representative who has lived for 10 years in Indonesia has not had a clue about what has happened in Aceh. I can understand why. The military, including the government, in Indonesia are very clever in conducting ‘damage control’ ~ they’d only release what they want people to hear or see and they’d pressure the news media to do so. I could put forward many examples ~ the tragedy of May 98, for example. It saddened me to hear many government authorities denied the impact of this tragedy to civilian victims despite the facts compiled and presented by national fact-findings team. In Indonesia everything can happen…
On my communication with Poengky (from Imparsial) regarding the truth about military and distribution of relief:
“News about military domination and monopoly in relief distribution are true. All my friends, either Acehnese in Aceh or volunteers who have just returned from Aceh, confirmed it. All relief aids have piled up at airports in Medan and Sultan Iskandar Muda Airport. The military sort all relief aids and then they distribute them, prioritizing their families or TNIs who became tsunami victims. At the same time a lot of civilians are starving. Moreover, the military have conducted ID check and demanded illegal fee from volunteers who enter Aceh. News media such as Metro TV and other TV stations have only cared and ‘dared’ to cover the military that were showing off busy acts ~ helping to carry and transport corpses or helping to clean up the ruins ~ when the news media are there to cover tsunami aftermath. It’s one of misleading information put forward by news media in Indonesia. As a matter of fact it’s all volunteers who are very commendable in their services—and they deserve equal if not more share of coverage.“
On my communication with Ondos ~ my long-time friend who’s now a member of DPR (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – National House of Representatives) regarding the ineffective and slow immediate relief process:
“I’ve explained to fellow IAGI (Indonesian Geologists Association) on Dec 28 during IAGI discussion at Sahid (Hotel) that we cannot deal with tsunami disaster in Aceh using Bakornas PBP (Badan Koordinasi Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana dan Penanganan Pengungsi – National Coordinating Agency for Disaster Management and Refugees Relief) standard operating procedure for disaster relief ~ although it already had PP (Peraturan Pemerintah – government regulations) and UU (Undang Undang – laws). I had the opportunity to bring up a fact that even Indonesia’s armed forces cannot handle it alone – they need all the help they can get. As we all are aware of, it’s still the case we face today [three weeks after the disaster]. On Dec 30 I had the chance to talk to journalists – from Kompas and radios – that we have to conduct land clearing by burning down the ruins and corpses. However, my statement was deflected and the following days it became a totally different issue – that we cannot burn corpses [against the teaching of Islam] and we cannot burn down the ruins because there are probably pile up of corpses beneath the ruins.
Thus, our problem is not merely technical problem but more about social-culture-political interests. Furthermore issue about children adoption is totally unclear.
Government – cg. Bappenas (Badan Perancanaan Pembangunan Nasional – National Planning Board) – already had blue print for rescue, rehabilitation, and reconstruction phases, but probably this not enough.
I and my fellow members of Commission VIII are preparing the blue print design. We also propose the needs of speedy land clearing (by burning down ruins and corpses) to prevent further threats such as diseases and floods during rainy season. Otherwise, it could deteriorate and easily become calamity such as bubonic plague in Algiers or smallpox in Europe during the eighteenth century.
Hopefully we can analyze this accumulation of conflicting interests as soon as possible and prevent worse things from happening.”
Due to so many issues being contorted on the ground I have to check many times to different sources, local and international, whether some ‘facts’ are actually the true facts. Media is powerful and can become a lethal or inspiring weapon depends on different interests. In Indonesia… the question is whether the media can still be independent amidst pressures from authority or pressure from xenophobic public. Let’s keep our watchful eyes on them.