Source: Seven Oaks (A Magazine of Politics, Culture & Resistance)
Date: 4 Jan 2005
Seven Questions for Allan Nairn
By Derrick O'Keefe
1. Could you tell us the latest with respect to the devastation caused by last month's earthquake and tsunami, specifically in Aceh?
Well, the coastal areas of Aceh have been crushed by the earthquake and the tsunami. Large parts of Banda Aceh are under water; they've become part of the sea. The west coast is hardest hit and whole villages are leveled. But this is not the first catastrophe to hit Aceh. Previously, it was devastated by unnecessary and preventable poverty. Aceh is rich in resources; it's one of the world's main natural gas producers. It supplies much of the natural gas for South Korea and Japan, and yet the revenues have gone to ExxonMobil and the central government in Jakarta, with almost nothing left for the poor of Aceh. And as a result, we've seen malnutrition and undernourishment levels among the children of Aceh running as high as 40 percent.
2. A number of activist groups in the United States have concerns that the Indonesian government will hamper disaster relief efforts, and also that they will exploit the situation to further repress Acehnese political activists. Do you know of, or see evidence of this taking place in Aceh?
Well, the Indonesian military is doing that as we speak. They are continuing to attack villages, more than a dozen villages in East Aceh and North Aceh away from the coast, even though General Susilo, the president of Indonesia, announced that they would be lifting the state of siege. He hasn't actually done it. And an Indonesian military spokesman came out and said, 'we will keep attacking until the President tells us to stop.'
The military is also impeding the flow of aid. They've commandeered a hanger at the Banda Aceh airport, where they are taking control of internationally shipped in supplies. We just got a report this afternoon that the distribution of supplies is being done in some towns and villages only to people who hold the 'red and white,' which is a special ID card issued to Acehnese by the Indonesian police. You have to go to a police station to get one of these ID cards, and it is only issued to people who the police certify as not being opponents of the army, not being critics of the government. Of course many people are afraid to go and apply for such a card.
There's been a tremendous outpouring from the public; all over the world people are giving donations. But most of these donations are being channeled through the UN agencies or through the big mainstream charities. There's a major problem. Those agencies and charities all have contracts with the Indonesian government, contracts which oblige them to either channel funds through the government or work in concert with the government, which means that government officials and army officers can steal the aid, and there are already indications that this is happening. And even that aid which is not stolen may be used in a way to consolidate military control over the population.
3. What is the background to the political conflict in Aceh?
Really the second wave of devastation to hit Aceh was the Indonesian military. Aceh is one of the most repressive places in the world. They have been under de facto Martial Law for years. Now, international relief workers and foreign journalists are pouring in, but, until the tsunami, they were banned by the Indonesian military. The reason is that the Acehnese want a free vote; they want a referendum which would give them the option of choosing independence from the central government and Indonesia.
In 1999, there was a demonstration in front of the Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh which drew anywhere from 400,000 to a million people. That's anywhere from 10 percent to a quarter of the entire Acehnese population of 4 million. In proportional terms, that makes it one of the largest political demonstrations in recent world history. The military responded to this demonstration by crushing the civilian political movement that was calling for referendum assassinating, disappearing, raping activists, and continuing with the massacres that had already dotted Aceh with mass graves before the tsunami created new mass graves.
The Indonesian military actually encourages the armed conflict that is going on between them and the GAM (Aceh Freedom Movement), which is an armed rebel pro-independence group. The Indonesian military occasionally sells weapons to the GAM. The military likes this war because, one, they can't be defeated militarily, and two, because it gives them a rationale for their political existence. The Indonesian military is one of the most repressive and corrupt in the world and, after the fall of Suharto, it became extremely unpopular. In Indonesia there was a strong popular movement against it. But by prolonging the war in Aceh, the Indonesian armed forces are able to say to the public, 'see, we're facing an armed rebellion, you need us to protect you.' And then third, the war in Aceh is a rich source of corruption for the Indonesian military officers. They do systematic extortion of business, small business and the poor, so they want to stay there. And they crush the civilian movement to avoid a political contest that they might well lose, and they encourage a military fight which they can only win.
4. It sounds very much as if conditions for the people of Aceh are as bad today as they were under the Suharto dictatorship. When did the conflict between the independence movement of Aceh and the government of Jakarta begin, and what are its origins?
Well, Aceh as a nation predates Indonesia. It was actually an ancient kingdom that ruled the area that is now Aceh as well as a lot of what is now Malaysia. When Indonesia came into being after World War II, with the uprising against the Dutch colonialists, Aceh played a leading role in fighting off the Dutch. And the Acehnese made a bargain with the other islands that came to form Indonesia that they would join the new country of Indonesia in exchange for substantial internal autonomy, and freedom to go their own way. But very quickly the central government in Jakarta reneged on that deal, and the Acehnese became quite unhappy. And then when Suharto and his army seized power in the 1965-67 period, and staged massacres all across Indonesia to consolidate their power, it began a period of military repression of the pro-independence movement in Aceh. The Acehnese tried for years the political route, and it didn't work. Then in the 1970s the GAM, the armed rebel movement, was formed. But even before they existed the Indonesian military and police were killing Acehnese civilians.
5. What are some of the connections between U.S. corporate interests and the Indonesian military repression in Aceh?
There's one main connection, and that's ExxonMobil. Their natural gas facility dominates the Acehnese economy, by way of extraction. They also have Indonesian troops garrisoned on their property. The ExxonMobil company pays protection money to the Indonesian military and the military buries bodies of its victims on ExxonMobil lands. The revenues from ExxonMobil are a mainstay of the Jakarta central government. Not much of it finds its way back to Aceh.
6. As someone who operates in the United States, what did you think of the spectacle over the past couple of days of U.S. military helicopters delivering aid, in sharp contrast to U.S. military operations over the past couple of years in Iraq, for instance?
It's bitterly ironic. You don't even have to go as far a field as Iraq to get an illustration of the role the U.S. has played. The Indonesian military is a long-time client of the U.S. The U.S. supported the military as they were bringing Suharto to power, as they were carrying out a massacre of anywhere from 400,000 to a million Indonesians during 1965-67. The U.S. gave the green light to the invasion of East Timor by the Indonesian military, which wiped out a third of the Timorese population, 200,000 people.
It's only as a result of grassroots lobbying in the U.S. after the '91 Dili massacre that the U.S. Congress stepped in and cut off much of the U.S. military aid to Indonesia. But this was done over the objection of the U.S. executive, over the objection of the first President Bush, and then President Clinton, and now the current President Bush. And there will be a major battle coming up in the U.S. Congress as Bush tries to restore the military aid now. But hopefully the public will bring enough pressure to bear on Congress that Congress will resist.
But the U.S. has deep complicity in the massacres over the years in Indonesia, in occupied Timor, currently in Papua and very recently and currently in Aceh. So it's bitterly ironic to see U.S. helicopters coming ashore in the role of deliverers of relief.
7. You've mentioned some problems with the established NGOs working in Indonesia and Aceh. Is there a way that people can contribute to the relief effort, and to efforts to raise awareness about the situation in Aceh more generally?
Yes, fortunately there is a way around the problem of Indonesian military cooptation of the UN and big mainstream relief channels. And that is to give directly to the grassroots Acehnese groups, which have been working for years with people in the refugee camps and which even though their people are at risk can deliver aid directly to the public because they do not have these contractual relationships with the Indonesian government and military. One such group is the People's Crisis Center (PCC) of Aceh, which for years has been going into the 're-education camps,' which are set up by the Indonesian military farmers are driven off their land, put into these camps to have their thoughts cleansed by military propagandists. And the children in these camps were often going hungry, not getting clean water, not getting schooling, and people from the PCC would come in and try to aid the children and give some education and some subsistence. And now they're working on disaster relief. Over the years their organizers were often targeted by the military, but they've persisted, they've been very brave.
Now the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) of the United States is channeling aid to the PCC and similar on-the-ground Acehnese groups. So if people want to donate, they can go to the ETAN U.S. website, which is www.etan.org.
Source: Democracy Now.org
Date: 4 Jan 2005
ExxonMobil, Aceh and the Tsunami
ExxonMobil has contributed $5 million to the Tsunami relief efforts. In Aceh, the company operates one of the largest gas fields in the world and they're being sued for gross human rights violations. We speak with a lawyer who has just returned from Indonesia where he was interviewing witnesses against ExxonMobil from Aceh.
Today, as the United Nations puts the confirmed death toll from the Asian Tsunami at more than 150,000, we are going to continue our special coverage of the devestation in the hardest hit area, the Aceh region of Indonesia where the death toll is expected soon to rise above 100,000. In a few moments we are going to be joined by two Acehnese activists who were out in front of the Indonesian Mission to the UN protesting yesterday against the Indonesian military regime. But first, we turn to a story that has gotten almost no attention and that is the story of the oil giant ExxonMobil, a corporation that has a massive investment in Aceh.
According to some estimates, ExxonMobil has extracted some $40 billion from its operations in Aceh, Indonesia. According to human rights groups, ExxonMobil has hired military units of the Indonesian national army to provide "security" for their gas extraction and liquification project in the region. Members of these military units regularly have perpetrated ongoing and severe human rights abuses against local villagers, including murder, rape, torture, destruction of property and other acts of terror. Human rights groups further charge that ExxonMobil has continued to finance the military and to provide company equipment and facilities that have been used by the Indonesian military to commit atrocities and cover them up through the use of mass graves.
For years, the Washington DC-based International Labor Rights Fund has fought a series of legal battles to hold ExxonMobil responsible for its record in Aceh. One of the group's lawyers was in Aceh interviewing witnesses just days before the Tsunami hit.
Derek Baxter, a lawyer for the International Labor Rights Fund in Washington, D.C.
Bama Athreya, Deputy Director of the International Labor Rights Fund in Washington, D.C.
AMY GOODMAN: We're joined by Bama Athreya, who is the Deputy Director of the International Labor Rights Fund, as well as Derek Baxter, who is a lawyer with that group. He has just returned from Indonesia, where he was speaking with people who are involved in the lawsuit. We want to welcome you both to Democracy Now!, and begin with Derek Baxter. Welcome.
DEREK BAXTER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us, Derek. I wanted to start off by saying that we did invite ExxonMobil on the program. They said at first they would participate in the program, if we were just talking about their contribution, ExxonMobil's contribution to the relief efforts. They're one of the largest corporate contributors to the relief efforts. They have pledged more than -- they have pledged $5 million. They did write us an email. They said, “I'm surprised your program would choose to divert attention from the unprecedented outpouring of support and coordination among multinational and local relief agencies in Indonesia, by pursuing an ambush interview with one of the largest corporate contributors to those efforts.” Derek Baxter, can you respond?
DEREK BAXTER: Well, we welcome ExxonMobil's contribution, but ExxonMobil, we have to remember, has a long debt to the Acehnese people. They are by far the largest corporation operating in Aceh. The amount of profit that they derive from this region is enormous. It dwarfs any other industry in the area. While we're glad that they're helping, sadly, all too long, Exxon has been part of the problem in Aceh. As our lawsuit has alleged, Exxon has knowingly operated its facilities, its natural gas facilities on the northeastern coast of Aceh. They have done so by hiring the Indonesian military forces to provide security, knowing all along, as is a matter of public record, that the Indonesian military's record in that area has been a very difficult one. The military has committed many human rights abuses against the people of Aceh in that area. Their collaboration with ExxonMobil has only worsened the problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Derek Baxter, you recently returned, in fact, what, just a week before the tsunami hit, from Indonesia. Can you talk about what you were doing there?
DEREK BAXTER: Certainly. I was very close to Aceh, and part of the problem in actually going to Aceh is that the Indonesian government has not regularly allowed foreigners, journalists, NGOs, etc., to enter without securing special permission, which is very difficult to get. So I was in North Sumatra, very close to Aceh. I met with numerous people, villagers who lived very close to the ExxonMobil facilities in Aceh, who traveled at great personal risk to themselves to North Sumatra, the area where I was, to meet with me. They told me of continuing human rights abuses. Just on the eve of the tsunami, the human rights situation in that part of Aceh was severe, and if anything, it was worsening. I spoke with people who told me that military assigned to protect the ExxonMobil facilities accosted them, extorted them, asked them regularly for contributions of money, of rice, of possessions, which these people had very little, and if there was any protest, they would often be attacked. They would be hauled away from their families, beaten. I spoke to a very young man who had been shot in the right knee, very gruesome. But these atrocities were commonplace. They didn't surprise anybody that I was talking to, because sadly, in that area, right by the ExxonMobil facilities, those abuses of that type have been going on for years, for the entire last decade. We have even heard reports, which we're trying to verify, that five people were killed actually on the liquification plant that ExxonMobil helps to operate. As we have -- as the ILRF have noted in the lawsuit which we filed in 2001, the torture and murder, disappearance, sexual assault of people, Acehnese, living close to these ExxonMobil facilities was all too routine over the last years.
AMY GOODMAN: Derek Baxter, if you are talking about the Indonesian military, why do you hold ExxonMobil accountable?
DEREK BAXTER: That's an excellent question, and we're not seeking to hold them accountable for everything, obviously, that happens in Aceh. There's a long, ongoing civil strife in that area, but in this particular area, ExxonMobil has contracted, as we have said and alleged in our complaint, they have contracted with the Indonesian military to provide security just for the ExxonMobil facilities. We have alleged that this relationship with the Indonesian military includes providing money, directly to them, it includes building -- constructing buildings on ExxonMobil grounds, which the military has used for the torture and disappearance of Acehnese. It includes providing excavating equipment, which ExxonMobil has provided to the military, in which we have alleged the military has then used to construct mass graves of the victims. It's a very close, ongoing relationship, and you have to remember that ExxonMobil wields enormous financial power in this region, and if they are choosing to utilize the military force that has been criticized by many human rights groups for their violations, then we believe, and we believe the law will hold us out on this point, that ExxonMobil will be legally liable for these violations.
AMY GOODMAN: Derek Baxter, we have to break. When we come back, we will also talk with Bama Athreya, about the overall region. Today, there's a piece in the Washington Post that talks about the collaboration between the U.S. military right now and the Indonesian military. Yesterday we went up to the U.N. mission -- to the Indonesian mission to the United Nations where there was a gathering of Acehnese refugees who were encouraging international aid organizations not to funnel their money through the Indonesian government. And they were calling on the Indonesian military not to stop the aid going into Aceh.
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to discuss one of the largest corporate contributors to the relief efforts, ExxonMobil – $5 million they say they are giving, we wish we could have them on the program. They declined to participate, but we are talking about an ongoing lawsuit that involves ExxonMobil and its running of one of the largest gas fields in the world in Aceh. I believe that its facility there was not actually damaged by the tsunami. We're joined in Washington studios by two members of the International Labor Rights Fund. We're joined by the Deputy Director of the International Fund, Bama Athreya, as well as Derek Baxter, who is the lawyer who's just returned from Indonesia, a week before the tsunami, interviewing people who are participating in the lawsuit against the -- against ExxonMobil. I was wondering, Bama Athreya, if you could put this in the context of Indonesia, which you have worked on for many years, and in the context of what's happening right now, the massive -- well, the cataclysm that has taken place and what is taking place in Aceh.
BAMA ATHREYA: Sure. That's a big question, Amy, and I'll try and focus it a little bit on the things that you just mentioned. You had mentioned that there has been a call from a number of activists to insure that the aid that people are so very generously giving to the victims of the tsunami is not all funneled through the Indonesian military. And, on context, I think it's important for people here, who are, you know, giving very generously on a personal level to recognize the political context in Aceh. The Indonesian military has been operating basically a war against a separatist movement in Aceh for decades now. And that has had a lot of fallout in terms of human rights violations against innocent civilians throughout Aceh. It's also important to remember that the Indonesian military itself are an extremely corrupt institution. It's estimated that only about 40% of the military's basic operating costs are paid for by the Indonesian government. That means they get the other 60% through extortion. You mentioned that ExxonMobil's given $5 million to the relief effort. Well, we would sure love to know how much ExxonMobil's has given to the Indonesian military over the years. We know they've paid them. We know they've given them logistical support. We know they've housed them. I'm just guessing that their donations, if you'd like to call it that, to the Indonesian military over the years have been far in excess of the $5 million they're now giving to the poor victims in Aceh. So, we're looking at a context where we've got a very corrupt institution, the Indonesian military, which has been extorting local Acehnese villagers, which has been running drug operations and prostitution rings in Aceh, which has been involved in illegal timber operations in Aceh; and now we're going to trust this same institution to be the folks who deliver the aid to the Acehnese victims? It's not a great idea, Amy, and I think that's one of the reasons why we share the position of some of our human rights colleagues here in the U.S. that there have got to be some transparent systems in place to deliver aid to make sure those people in Aceh that have suffered the most really, truly get the food and the medicine that people are donating.
AMY GOODMAN: As you mentioned, Bama, Acehnese and human rights groups have been protesting the funneling of aid to the Indonesian military. Yesterday outside the Indonesian mission to the U.N., a gathering of Acehnese refugees took place. They marched from the U.N. to thank them for supporting huge relief efforts in Indonesia, but then marched over to the Indonesian Mission to the U.N., condemning what they called the Indonesian government's haphazard response to the tsunami. They accuse the Indonesian armed forces of continuing their military operations in Aceh, and of preventing the delivery of aid to victims of the earthquake and tsunami. The refugees charged that rather than helping the people, in a number of areas the troops are intimidating villagers, scaring away --them away from their villages, looting their homes, stealing food. They called on the military to implement an immediate cease-fire.
Source: World Socialist Web Site
Date: 5 Jan 2005
In the wake of tsunami calamity:
Indonesian army steps up war in Aceh
By John Roberts
There are growing signs that the Indonesian military (TNI) is exploiting the current catastrophe in northern Sumatra to crush the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and establish its unchallenged control over the resource-rich province of Aceh.
So far the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Aceh on December 26 is more than 100,000 and is likely to rise much higher. From Lhokseumawe on the east coast through the provincial capital Banda Aceh near Sumatra’s northern tip to Meulaboh on the west coast, cities and towns have been obliterated.
Transport and other infrastructure have been torn apart. Hundreds of thousands are desperately in need of water, food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. There is now a serious risk that further lives will be lost through disease and hunger.
Yet, rather than concentrating resources on emergency relief efforts, the Indonesian armed forces, with the approval of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, are preoccupied with their counterinsurgency operations against GAM fighters. While refugees are desperate for supplies and relief workers for transport, the TNI has launched offensives against GAM in various locations across the province.
When the tsunami hit, the military already had 40,000 troops and paramilitary police in Aceh as a result of its ongoing campaign to wipe out GAM. The current offensive initiated in May 2003, under former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, included armour and artillery as well as air and naval support and was billed as Indonesia’s own version of the US “shock and awe” methods in Iraq.
Despite a state of emergency and a media blackout in Aceh over the last year, human rights organisations have reported gross and widespread abuse of local Acehnese by the military, including arbitrary detention, torture and summary execution. Yudhoyono, a former general, was Megawati’s top security minister and played a crucial role in planning and overseeing the offensive until he resigned last March to contest the presidency.
In the aftermath of the December 26 tsunami, the TNI’s responded by dispatching an additional 15,000 troops to Aceh, ostensibly to carry out humanitarian relief work. But far from the well-oiled machine that swung into action against GAM the previous year, the military’s emergency assistance in the province has been marked by disorganisation, delays and disinterest.
On December 27, TNI chief General Endriartono indicated that the military would respond in kind to a unilateral ceasefire declared by exiled GAM leaders in Sweden to allow relief efforts to go ahead. It soon became clear, however, that the TNI had no intention of passing up the opportunity to inflict a defeat on GAM, which had suffered losses during the tsunami and earthquake.
The first media reports related to a particular incident. On Thursday, a GAM spokesman announced that Indonesian troops had killed two GAM members in the Peurelak area of East Aceh, including the local commander Afrizal bin Abdul Manaf. He said TNI troops had also set fire to a house in the village of Idi Reayeuk. A TNI spokesman acknowledged the clash, but blamed GAM rebels for provoking the incident by ambushing a convoy of military trucks carrying relief supplies.
Sweden-based GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah strenuously denied that GAM fighters had attacked a convoy. In turn, he accused the military of harassing and torturing suspected GAM sympathisers in refugee camps. The TNI’s abuse of refugees was also reported to the Aceh Referendum Information Centre by volunteers working in Banda Aceh. They alleged that refugees on the way to relief centres were being interrogated by the military.
Bakhtiar told the British-based Guardian: “The reports we received are that they are moving in more troops under the guise of relief operations. We know that they are trying to track down GAM fighters in the area. We have given strict orders to maintain a ceasefire and hoped that the Indonesian military would respect that ceasefire and refrain from military action.”
As it turned out, the clash was not an isolated incident. The Jakarta Post this week reported that the TNI had launched operations against GAM hideouts in Teupin, Batee, Seunebok Langa, Gampung Jalan, Kuburan Cina, Buket Linteung and Buket Jok areas of East Aceh. In north Aceh, army attacks were underway in Makmur, Gandapura and Peusangan.
The TNI not only confirmed that the operations were taking place, but was completely unapologetic about them. In comments cited in the Guardian, Colonel Ahmad Yani Basuki declared: “We have to maintain security operations to prevent the rebels from attacking vital installations and relief operations.” According to Basuki, only one third of TNI troops were involved in military operations and the remainder had been assigned to relief work. He provided no evidence, however, for any of his assertions.
Lieutenant-Colonel D.J. Nachrowi told the Jakarta Post that the TNI was “now carrying out two duties: humanitarian work and the security operation.” He put forward a different argument, maintaining that the military was obliged by the state of emergency to attack GAM. “The raids to quell the secessionist movement in Aceh will continue unless the president issues a decree to lift the civil emergency and assign us to merely play a humanitarian role in Aceh,” he said.
Yudhoyono has shown no intention of lifting the civil emergency in Aceh or of reaching a temporary truce with GAM. Instead, in an appeal for national unity, the president has called on the separatist fighters to lay down their weapons, in other words surrender, to facilitate relief operations. The military, of course, would remain armed to the teeth.
Various human rights groups have confirmed that military operations are continuing in Aceh. A spokesman for the British-based Tapol organisation, Paul Barber, told the Inter Press Service News Agency: “Under the civil emergency, the Indonesian military continue to play a leading role and there has been no cutback in the level of military operations in most of the territory.”
Nasruddin Abubakar, president of the Aceh Referendum Information Centre, angrily condemned the TNI’s actions, saying: “The government is still maintaining the civil emergency and continuing on with military operations in Aceh despite the fact that the death toll is now close to 100,000. Is the government not yet satisfied with the killing? Are Acehnese not citizens of Indonesia?”
The fact that the Indonesian military has been devoting resources—troops, transport and coordination—to its military operations would help to explain the limited and chaotic character of the relief effort in Aceh. Air transport is crucial in reaching remote areas and moving relief supplies into the province, but it has been a shambles. The Indonesian air force has made no effort to either regulate airspace over Aceh or to provide air traffic control to vital airports in Banda Aceh and Medan where international aid is arriving.
Numerous media reports point to the bottlenecks in ferrying aid into Aceh and distributing it. On New Years Eve, an aircraft had to wait 14 hours in Banda Aceh for a takeoff clearance. At one stage the only surviving air traffic controller in Aceh was reportedly left to operate the airport alone. Trucks and fuel have been in critically short supply. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that US relief organisations in Medan, forced to rely on their own resources, had “begged, borrowed and rented” 80 trucks to provide transport.
The disinterest of the Indonesian military in the plight of Acehnese is most graphically revealed by the inexplicable delay in surveying the extent of the disaster on the west coast, which lay in the direct path of the tsunami. It took four days for the Indonesian air force to send a flight over Meulaboh, which one journalist likened to the scene after the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Highly publicised relief operations are now underway by US and Australian military, which are providing key logistical support. US military helicopters flew the first significant supplies of aid into Meulaboh last weekend. The Australian military teams are in Banda Aceh providing clean water and other assistance. All criticism of the TNI and its appalling human rights has been shelved as these efforts are hailed in the media as ushering in a new period of cooperation.
These joint operations have very little to do with any genuine concern the victims of the December 26 disaster. Both Australian and the US have been seeking to reestablish working relations with the Indonesian military since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998. The relief efforts provide an ideal opportunity not only to work closely with the TNI but potentially to establish a foothold in Aceh—a key region with significant oil and reserves adjacent to the strategic Strait of Malacca.
As for the TNI, the support provided by the US and Australian military for relief efforts allows the diversion of additional Indonesian military forces into its operations against GAM. There is every indication that the Indonesian military has the tacit support of Washington and Canberra, which, unlike in the case of East Timor, have maintained a complete silence on Jakarta’s dirty war in Aceh over the last 18 months.
US military establishment thinking was revealed in a recent comment by the US-based Stratfor Global Intelligence thinktank. It noted that the tsunami disaster might prove to be a boon for the military’s campaign against GAM. “Yudhoyono will send more troops into the province to rebuild and clean up... If GAM does not agree to settle the problem peacefully, Yudhoyono will have more troops on hand to clean them out,” it noted.
What is emerging in embryo in Aceh is a return to the relations that existed prior to 1998, when the US, Australia and other major powers relied on the ruthless Suharto dictatorship to safeguard their economic and strategic interests in Indonesia and the region.
Source: Micheline (Mika) Lévesque (Asia Regional Officer of Rights and Democracy - ICHR&DD)
Date: 6 Jan 2005
Food Report from Aceh. Following is Carole Samdup's e-mail.
Based on interviews with friends who just returned from Banda Aceh this morning (3 Jan.).
Lots of food and non-food items have arrived by planes in Banda Aceh, but the process of distributing these items to those in need has been very slow due to the following:
- Most logistics from Jakarta were sent through government by planes to Banda Aceh. There are 2 airports in Banda Aceh: one is the public airport and another one is the military airport. All logistics to help victims in Aceh are carried by planes which arrive in military airport thus access and control over these logistics are in the hands the military. Based on observation, these logistics support have been distributed mainly to military members and their circles. Requests to help with distribution to people in need were made by civilians and activists who survived the tsunami, yet their requests were rejected. This explains why food aid that has arrived in Aceh is not getting to the people. And people have to queue up at the military camp to receive some food.
- Organisations sending food aid to Aceh do not have a clear information and picture of the government and military procedures. We all think sending by planes will be the fastest but the reality is these logistics are kept in queue to be boarded on flights which can hardly be confirmed when they will be sent off and when will they arrive in Aceh. In this case, it might be even faster to send things to Aceh by trucks from Jakarta which take 3 days rather than by flights due to unconfirmed departure flights schedule.
- Another related problem is that when these logistics reach Banda Aceh by flights, they are stored at the military airport for there not enough vehicles to bring them for distribution; and part of the logistic goods are kept in the military camp while people keep waiting for food distribution.
- In Meulaboh, the military has full control over food aid and distribution due to the difficult access from outside. Taufan (KKSP activist) went to Meulaboh on Sunday, it was possible by a small plane to a nearby area then continued another 4 hours by car. Attempts to make direct contact with local people inside Meulaboh to learn of their current situation has not yet been possible. We have friends who went inside to look for their families and will hear from them soon the real situation there. We only see from TV news reporting the arrival of food aid organised by US military who dropped boxes of water, food and Indomie from flying helicopters.
- In Banda Aceh, local groups such as PCC and Forum LSM have volunteers to help with distribution of logistic goods but they have nothing to distribute while we hear from government side regarding the lack of volunteers to help with distribution.
- Thus it is a good initiative to send logistic goods directly to Aceh to be distributed by local civilian groups and activists. But the type of transport must be considered carefully in order to avoid further delay and situation where we have little control over such as the fact that civilian groups and activists are not allowed access to the logistics goods which hadve arrived at the military airport in Banda Aceh.
Jan 6, 2005
I got information from an NGO, Peacewinds Japan, that could enter Meulaboh. According to them, they’re required to report to Indonesia’s military everyday.
Saeki Natsuko (Network for Indonesian Democracy, Japan)
e-mail address: email@example.com
1-32-2-101 Kamisoshigaya Setagayaku
Tokyo 157-0065, Japan
Source: Otto Syamsuddin Ishak (Imparsial Programme Director) – e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Jan 6, 2005
Yes, just by chance my colleague joined that group.
According to my colleague:
- All aids should be brought to soldiers (at Korem – Military Command at a level below the residency).
- They insisted to provide escort/protection services, although people didn’t feel the need to these kinds of services. As we all know, all they want is to monopolize escort/protection services and to extort fee for their escort/protection services.
- A volunteer in Meulaboh said that all aids and volunteers have to post at SGI (Satuan Gabungan Intelijen – Federation of Intelligence Unit).
Source: Celia Borgatti (USC - Unitarian Service of Canada)
Date: 7 Jan 2005
Thanks for this interesting report (ref. Food Report on Aceh). I made an inquiry to our partner in Jakarta, YAPPIKA, to see if they had any information on the situation in Meulaboh, and received the attached document. YAPPIKA is acting as an information hub in Jakarta, collecting information from various activists based in Aceh, as well as from news reports and any other reliable source present. They have collected quite a bit of information and produce a report that is updated twice daily. The document is large, and is available only in Bahasa Indonesia. I have had the attached bit translated - not a lot of information, but it might be of some use to Carole. Please forward it if you feel it is useful (I do not have Carole's e-mail).
I would also like to inform our group that a number of Indonesian civil society organizations have formed a coalition entitled The Civil Society Coalition for the Earthquake and Tsunami Victims. The primary coalition members are Transparency International Indonesia, YAPPIKA, Kontras, WALHI, and Imparsial. There are, however, quite a number of additional implementing organizations, including Aceh Kita, CETRO, Mitra Perempuan, to name a few (I do not have a complete list). This group has approximately 200 volunteers (medical personnel and others) in Aceh, and has been distributing clean drinking water and basic food stuffs as their funding permits. For further information see the WALHI website at www.eng.walhi.or.id, or USC's website at www.usc-canada.org.
USC Canada is collecting funds on behalf of the Coalition, which will be transferred through our partner, YAPPIKA. To date we have been able to transfer $14,000, made possible through contributions from our donors and the general public. If any of you are looking forward projects to support, you may wish to consider making a contribution to the Coalition. While USC anticipates sending additional funds, it is not likely to be a large amount as USC does not work in the field of disaster relief.
Meulaboh Update as of Jan. 7, 2005:
Information from YAPPIKA informants in the field and local media.
Source: Bapa Sapran, SH. (Information and Public Relations Regional Government Singkil)
A 9 member volunteer team has been sent from Singkil to Meulaboh (medic, driver, electricians). The route to Meulaboh – Singkil has improved, after a bridge repaired by Yonzipur TNI (military) making it possible to reach the area by land.
Source: Post (run by Rakata Adventure) in Meulaboh
Refugees at the post are suffering from diarrhea, malaria and cholera. Two refugees have been shot by GAM over a disagreement of supplies. Present supplies are considered enough for 5 days. Priority at this point is communication – asking for short band radios.
Source: JKLPK (Jaringan Kerja Lembaga Pelayanan Kristen) Jakarta
A medical team consisting of 1 doctor, 6 nurses and 10 university students from a Christian Service network left from Jakarta on Jan 4.
Source: Kontras Medan
An investigation team from Kontras Medan will be sent on Jan 8.
Source: Walhi Nasional
Three Walhi volunteers from Jakarta left for Medan Jan 6 – destination Meulaboh. Walhi has received medical equipment and medicine which will be sent to Meulaboh and West Aceh. As of 11:30AM Jan 6, 20 more Walhi volunteers have arrived in Meulaboh. They will be dispersed among the posts in each Sub-district. An assessment of Calang and Teunom will be done. According to latest reports, 100% damage and approximately 40,000 people reported missing in that area.
Source: Jaringan Relawan Kemanusiaan Jakarta (JRKJ)
A team has set up a post in Meulaboh near the Bupati’s office. At this point there are two posts in Meulaboh, one near the Bupati’s office and the other at Simpang Empat.
Media Update 6 Januari 2005 19:00
Source: Bapa Yan - Kepala Dinas Infokom Aceh Selatan (internet news)
A medical team from RSCM and PMI (Red Cross Indonesia) are on the way to Meulaboh.
Source: Bambang Soed, Medan (Tempo Medan - magazine)
Meulaboh is returning to normal despite major damage to buildings. Water supply is sufficient for drinking only. Residents are slowly becoming active Pos 112 Teuku Umar Meulaboh still needs food and medicine as they are distributing to other posts as well. There is a medical team from Singapore at this and the Bupati Post. At this point aid is needed approximately 5km from Meulaboh. This area has been untouched. Transportation can only be by sea or air.
Source: 68H (radio)
Meulaboh is in severe need of medicine including anti-tetanus, as well as high protein foods such as salted fish and canned food. Intersections are being repaired and electricity is running 24hr. Evacuations have not begun yet from Meulaboh, Lhoknga, Calang, Teunom and areas. This is because of lack of volunteers sent to this area. Evacuation Team Banda Aceh reports they need more then 1000 additional help to conduct evacuations in areas such as Meulaboh, Calang, Teunom.
Date: 7 Jan 2005
Politics muscles in on tsunami crisis
By Paul Dillon in Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Violent nationalist militias and hardline Islamist groups are pouring into the ravaged Aceh province, home to a prolonged, well-entrenched separatist movement.
Buses loaded with Pemuda Panca Marga (PPM) supporters chanting nationalist slogans and clad in military uniforms and berets have cruised the streets of Banda Aceh, while members of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council, whose leader is charged with terrorist offences, unloaded aid from Australian transport planes at the city's main airport.
The sons of military veterans, the members of PPM are best known for intimidating human rights activists and other critics of military policy in Aceh, which has been the scene of a brutal 29-year-long separatist insurgency.
In May 2003, hundreds of PPM members stormed the offices of the Committee for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) in Jakarta, destroying office equipment and beating members of staff. The chief of police later said his officers were all in meetings and unable to answer calls for assistance.
Days earlier, the organisation issued a strongly worded statement critical of the government's decision to pull out of peace talks with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and launch a full military operation against the rebels.
The military claims to have killed at least 2200 GAM members since that time, but has managed to recover only 800 weapons. Hundreds of alleged GAM sympathisers are currently in prisons throughout the country and others have graduated from army-run "re-education" camps.
Kontras' founder, known only as Munir, died of arsenic poisoning during a commercial airline flight to Amsterdam on 7 September. No one has been arrested in connection with his murder and friends and family of the country's best-known human rights campaigner have criticised the government investigation.
PPM is the latest in a series of groups with violent records, strong nationalists ideals and links to the military to arrive in Aceh since Indonesia's northernmost province was hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami on 26 December.
Hundreds of members of the Islamic Defender's Front (FPI), a Jakarta-based organisation with strong ties to arch-nationalist cadres within the Indonesian Armed Forces, have arrived in Banda Aceh in the past nine days.
The group's deputy leader said they planned to open an office in the city's principal mosque but the local imam refused their request.
Hilmy Bakar Almascaty says he expects 5000 laskar forces will arrive in the city over the next few weeks, many of them travelling in Indonesian military C-130 transport planes bringing aid into the region.
"We have a very close relationship with the military. We meet regularly with them to plan our strategy," he said.
While claiming strong Islamic credentials, FPI is widely viewed as a gang of thugs who operate under the control of elements of the Indonesian military.
They are best known for their "anti-vice" campaigns during the fasting month when truckloads of white-clad FPI members smash bars and restaurants, which are allowed by provincial ordinances to operate during Ramadan. The police never intervene to protect the property lost in these attacks.
MMI activists could be seen working at the Banda Aceh airport, assisting with the delivery of aid from Australian military aircraft just hours before the scheduled visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The MMI is chaired by accused Jemaah Islamiya (JI) amir Abu Bakr Bashir, who is currently standing trial in Jakarta on charges that he sanctioned the truck-bombings of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August 2003.
Abu Bakr Bashir sits in a courtroom during his trial Jemaah Islamiya is listed by the United Nations and the US Department of State as a terrorist organisation. Its goal is the creation of a vast, Southeast Asian Caliphate.
Dozens of JI operatives are serving lengthy jail sentences for the 2002 bombing of a Bali nightclub that claimed more than 200 lives. Analysts say the organisation is committed to the creation of an Islamic Caliphate extending from southern Thailand and the Philippines to the shores of Australia.
Local religious leaders worry the presence of the groups, some of which espouse an uncompromising Wahhabi brand of Islam that is not widely practiced in Muslim Southeast Asian nations, could destabilise the situation.
"Before the tsunami there was very little support for these organisations in Aceh, only a small number of young men and we try to reach out to them and bring them back to our traditional ways," says Muslim Ibrahim, chairman of the Acehnese Ulama Council.
"If any of them attempt to give speeches that are too strict, then we will intervene to prevent it. We have anticipated some of these kinds of problems."
Aceh is the only province in Indonesia to implement a limited version of Islamic law. Adopted in 2002, it requires Muslim women here to wear headscarves, bans private entertainment venues and the sale of alcohol. Banda Aceh's cinema was closed in 1998, and bars outside the major hotels have been banned for many years.
Indonesia's People's Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab, who in an interview last year trumpeted his organisation's campaign against the creeping influences of a radical Islamist doctrine in Indonesia, sees nothing sinister in the various groups coming to Aceh.
"I am not concerned at all," he says. "These are people who have travelled a great distance in order to help their fellow citizens in Aceh."
Source: IMAAMNet@yahoogroups.com (Adi Prajitno)
Date: 9 jan 2005
Pornographic Books Entering Aceh
The disaster in Aceh could probably create a new social problem. And, one of the problem is the threat of apostasy and the introduction of pornographic books.
Hidayatullah.Com -- Thus Madi Saputra (Medical Doctor) said, a volunteer from Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI - Indonesia Mujahidin Council) that is working in Banda Aceh now, Sunday (9/1/05).
Based on his field findings, he said that pornographics books can be found in some refugee posts in Banda Aceh. The introduction of this kind of books will become a social threat to Acehnese, especially the children.
One of the source of this threat is foreign volunteers. As we are all aware that nowadays Banda Aceh is packed with foreign volunteers. They come from several elements, among others, army, rescue team, and medical personnel.
Apparently they are not only working as rescue team but also are introducing negative behaviour. " On the one hand we really need their aids but on the other hand their presence will only bring negative impact to the people," added Dr. Madi Saputra.
Medical team from Mer C, that conducts medicinal/medical treatment around TVRI Banda Aceh, confirms his findings. There are several refugee posts around TVRI Banda Aceh. Volunteers from France built their working/living post around this area. MMI found several refugees held pornographic books. "We also got similar report from volunteer that came from UNS Solo," said Haikal, one of MMI's volunteers.
In addition to the threat of exposure to pornographic books, Acehnese in refugee posts also face apostasy threat from missionaries present in the guise of volunteers.
As written in Hidayatullah.com previously, an Australian priest, Chris Riley, plans to build a refugee camp for children in Aceh. His plan was exposed during Channel 9's special interview with the priest on Tuesday, (4/1) Brisbane time. Riley will depart for Aceh on Jan. 5, 2004. According to him, the temporary refugee camp will become permanent in the future.
"We have found stories concerning prophets published in Christian version. Some Acehnese children look very absorbed in enjoying those books from foreign aid.
"The current situation in Aceh, where people are in need of help from outside, is very susceptible to cultural infiltration, including apostasy," said Dr. Madi. (Har)
Ali Al Asytar then countered the above "issue" as follow:
This is the work of wicked paramilatry or wicked command. Their teacher is the Indonesian's armed forces/police, the blood-thirsted wolves that are very professional in deceiving Acehnese. Before they killed Acehnese they already planted hashish, then provoked, and accused that it belonged to the victims. I believe we have uncovered their evil propaganda. Crooks are not always lucky. Remember this, you hipocrite colonizers.
Source: Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
Date: 10 Jan 2005
Militants Jump Into Aceh Aid Efforts
By Richard C. Paddock and Don Lee (Times Staff Writers)
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - Hundreds of Muslim militants, best known for smashing up Jakarta discos or advocating Islamic rule, have poured into devastated Aceh province with the help of the Indonesian military to aid in disaster relief.
The Islamic Defenders Front and the Indonesian Mujahedin Council have set up camp at the same Indonesian military air base in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, being used by U.S. Navy helicopters for aid flights to victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami.
So far, the two sides have kept their distance. But the militants' presence and their plan to develop long-term influence here could complicate efforts to bring peace to a region long troubled by a separatist conflict and make the province a religious battleground.
"We saw the American soldiers helping the Acehnese, and that is a good thing," said Hilmy Bakar Almascaty, head of the Islamic Defenders Front mission in Aceh. "They come here to help us and we welcome them. However, if they interfere with our tradition, or civilization or law, that would become a problem."
Almascaty's group, which he said could soon number more than 1,000, has focused on the grisly job of pulling bodies from the rubble and cleaning up damaged mosques. U.S. officials have played down any possible threat and have not curtailed operations at the air base because of the militants' presence.
Indonesian army spokesman Col. Djazairi Nachrowi praised the efforts of the militants and said they should not be discriminated against simply because of their past willingness to use violence to further their ideology.
"I think we have to put aside the negative thinking and prejudice," Nachrowi said. "We should focus our thoughts on things that would help the victims."
Both the army and the Muslim militants oppose the military campaign by Acehnese rebels to establish their own nation.
"Of course, we reject that," Almascaty said. "The united Republic of Indonesia is final. Our country must not shrink."
For nearly three decades, the Acehnese separatists have battled the central government in a war that has claimed thousands of lives. The rebels, who call their organization the Free Aceh Movement, contend that Aceh was annexed illegally by Indonesia when the country was founded in 1945.
In May 2003, the Indonesian government placed the province under strict military control in an attempt to crush the rebels. Human rights groups and victims' families have charged that Indonesian troops have singled out and killed civilians, some boys as young as 12.
The government has granted Aceh partial autonomy that permits the limited implementation of Islamic law. While the separatists are devout Muslims, they reject autonomy, saying they are seeking independence, not Islamic law.
But for the Muslim militants, having Islamic law should be enough.
"They have been granted autonomy to implement the Islamic law formally already, so why do they want to have their independence?" asked Almascaty. "They have no reason for independence."
When the tsunami hit, the Indonesian army suffered losses far greater than it had in any battle with the rebels. More than 500 soldiers were killed or are missing. Hundreds of military family members also were lost.
The separatists, who have generally been pushed to the interior by the army, suffered relatively few casualties from the tsunami. The Free Aceh Movement immediately declared a cease-fire, but both sides have reported a number of clashes.
Separatist leaders who operate from the safety of Sweden have praised the arrival of foreign help, especially the U.S. military.
"Things began to change for the better when the U.S. naval forces landed in Aceh," said Malik Mahmud, who goes by the title prime minister of the Acehnese government-in-exile. "Their helicopters were immediately on the move, locating survivors and delivering aid directly to the neediest."
Mahmud expressed hope that the opening of Aceh to foreign troops, aid groups, journalists and others would lead to renewed peace negotiations and an end to the conflict.
"The catastrophe should provide both conflicting parties... a chance to improve their relationship and seek a sustainable peace resolution," Mahmud said in an interview by e-mail.
The changing dynamics in Aceh could give the Muslim militants an opportunity to establish a beachhead in a province where they have been shut out.
In recent years, the Free Aceh Movement has rejected offers of assistance from extremists including representatives of Osama bin Laden and the militant Indonesian group Laskar Jihad.
"We chased out the Laskar Jihad because we felt their presence was unwarranted in Aceh and we did not want them meddling," said Bakhtiar Abdullah, a spokesman for the Free Aceh Movement in Sweden.
Some of the Muslim militants take the view that the tsunami struck Aceh as punishment for a lack of devotion, even though Aceh is widely considered to be one of the most devoutly Muslim regions in Indonesia.
"It's obvious what happened was a sign of God," said Ahmad Sabri Lubis, the leader of an Islamic Defenders Front cleanup squad. "That's because there are so many human beings who crossed God's rules. Yes, Aceh has a long history, but because of their change, so many of them have been influenced to do something against the rules, like alcohol, prostitution and gambling."
Until now, the Islamic Defenders Front was best known for breaking up bars and discos during the holy month of Ramadan. Often their targets are bars popular with foreigners. In October, members of the group smashed the windows and doors of the Star Deli in Jakarta because customers were drinking beer.
In Banda Aceh, the militants warn that foreign aid workers who come to Aceh must not try to impose their own culture.
"Because they come here, they might want to open a discotheque," Almascaty said. "That's their custom. They want to open a bar, to drink, or to look for women, and so on. That would be a problem because that is forbidden here."
On Saturday, members of the Islamic Defenders Front headed out to an upper-income complex of 200 houses to search for bodies.
One member of the team, Amir, had come from Ambon, a city in eastern Indonesian torn in recent years by fighting between Muslims and Christians. The 25-year-old wood factory worker spent four days on a ship to get to Jakarta on his way to Aceh. Wearing thick red gloves, blue boots donated by the Red Cross and a mask, Amir climbed onto the back of a wobbly truck as it headed out for another day of pulling corpses from the rubble.
Beside him, Hasan Basri Dalimunthe, a 24-year-old Jakarta university student, talked about why he thought the tsunami had beset this historic area in north Sumatra, through which Islam entered Indonesia in the 13th century.
"The rules here are good, but implementation is not," said Dalimunthe, wearing the group's T-shirt with its triangle insignia. "People here are influenced by outsiders, from Muslims in other provinces as well as foreigners."
At the search site, residents expressed support for an organization whose members were enduring the putrid smell of corpses and were willing to wade through swamps to recover bodies and give them at least a partial Muslim burial.
"They are using their human resources to do difficult work," said Abul Yatana, who escaped the tsunami with his wife by hopping on a motorcycle and racing up to the hills. "I respect them," said the 31-year-old university lecturer.
By day's end, the crew had found about 100 bodies, which they wrapped in black plastic. They planned to offer a prayer for the bodies before dropping them into 12-foot-deep trenches.
Another militant organization sending members to aid in the relief effort is the Indonesian Mujahedin Council, which was previously headed by Abu Bakar Bashir, who is on trial in Jakarta. Bashir is accused of being the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, the group responsible for dozens of terrorist bombings, including the 2002 Bali nightclub attack that killed 202 people.
The group's coordinator here, Salman Farizi, 50, said that in addition to distributing supplies and providing medical aid, "we also give religious preaching, to keep up the spirit of the people."
Sari Sudarsono of The Times' Jakarta Bureau also contributed to this report.
Date: 10 Jan 2005
Rebels Not Infiltrating Tsunami Refugee Camps
The Indonesian government said today that separatist rebels were not infiltrating refugee camps in tsunami-hit Aceh province and were not responsible for a shooting near the main UN compound, contradicting assertions a day earlier by the country's military and police.
A top official also said the government and rebels were negotiating indirectly through a group of religious scholars in hopes of securing a lasting peace in a region that has been wracked by conflict for years.
The police and military's claims yesterday about the rebels Indonesia's army has been fighting for decades heightened worries for the security of the massive aid operation under way in northern Sumatra island.
But Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab, who is heading the country's relief effort, said a troubled Indonesian soldier, not a rebel gunman, was responsible for a burst of gunfire close to the main UN compound in the provincial capital Banda Aceh yesterday.
The soldier was in custody, Shihab said.
"I have a report from the (military) that a soldier was in a stressful condition and opened fire," Shihab said. "GAM (the rebel group) was not involved in this."
The military had not said previously who it believed was responsible for the shooting, but police blamed the rebels.
Shihab also dismissed the military claim that rebels had infiltrated refugee camps, reported yesterday by the Antara state news agency.
The Free Aceh rebels, known by the Indonesian acronym GAM, have been fighting a low-level war against Indonesian troops for an independent homeland in Aceh for more than 20 years.
Indonesian forces are accused of brutality in the region and are widely despised.
Source: The Jakarta Post Online
Date: 11 Jan 2005
Kudos to TNI
The Indonesian Military (TNI) must be one of the few institutions whose work and contributions to the emergency relief effort in disaster-stricken areas in Aceh and North Sumatra has not been fully appreciated. There is even the sense that the Indonesian media (including this newspaper) have been giving greater, if not more positive, coverage to the relief efforts of foreign militaries in our own backyard.
This, however, says more about the state-of-the-art equipment (the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier off the coast of Aceh is just too awesome) and, to some extent, the efficiency of the foreign militaries relative to the TNI. It does not say who is doing the most work in Aceh and North Sumatra today, for that would undoubtedly be the TNI.
Is this a case of unfair treatment of our own military?
You could say that. But it is also a reflection of the high expectations many people have placed on the TNI as the nation suffers through the worst of what UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described as a global catastrophe.
It is also a sign that the nation is looking to the TNI, being literally on the front line in this war against Mother Nature's wrath, to be the first and the most active in lending a hand to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that struck on Dec. 26.
For all our differences of opinion about the presence of the military command in Aceh, this "territorial structure" means the TNI is the only group in the area that has the organization, personnel, equipment, skill and capability to provide immediate assistance to the victims of disasters. No other organization can match the TNI, not even the civilian provincial administration, which lost a third of its employees.
Did the TNI perform up to expectations? The lack of appreciation given to the military suggests that, in the eyes of many people in this country, it did not. But this is an unfair assessment born more out of ignorance -- and lack of media coverage -- and unfairly high expectations.
The TNI has a disproportionately heavy presence in Aceh because of the ongoing operation to quell the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM). But Mother Nature does not discriminate and the earthquake and tsunami hit members of the TNI and their families, and we suspect some GAM rebels and their families, just as hard as it hit civilian targets. The TNI, like the police and the civilians they are supposed to defend, suffered many losses in this disaster.
Soldiers were confronted with the impossible choice of putting their military duties first or rescuing and protecting their own families. One heroic but rarely told story of this disaster is that many soldiers bravely performed their duties knowing that their own families were in jeopardy.
In the aftermath of the disaster, TNI soldiers were well positioned to conduct rescue operations, to take the injured to hospitals, to administer first aid and to set up tents for the displaced. This they did out of their sense of duty, and in most cases, without the media publicity.
Instead, most of the reports that came out were more about their shortcomings, from their supposed slow response and lack of coordination to suggestions that some officers were selling food aid intended for victims. Some of these reports may have had some truth in them, but they should not negate the big picture, which is that overall the TNI did its job under the most difficult of conditions.
One could always argue, after the fact, that the TNI could, and should, have done a lot more given its strong presence in Aceh. Had it not been for its poor reputation among the people of Aceh, the TNI should even have been given the task of coordinating the entire humanitarian operation currently underway because it is the one organization on the ground that has the capacity and network to do so.
Long before the civilian government in Jakarta made up its mind about coordinating the emergency relief operations, the TNI had already appointed Maj. Gen. Bambang Darmono to coordinate with foreign militaries. The successof the foreign military missions in ferrying relief supplies to the most remote areas on the western coast of Aceh could not have been achieved without direction from the TNI.
For all its faults and shortcomings, our TNI has done what is expected of it and probably a lot more. Many soldiers and their families have made sacrifices for the nation, some even went beyond the call of duty. Their work and contributions to the Aceh humanitarian operation should not only be recognized, but also widely applauded.
Foreign help sought to pressure GAM
By Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met on Monday with six foreign ambassadors and asked if they could help pressure the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) leaders living overseas not to interfere with the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts in Aceh.
In the snap meeting, the President said that the Indonesian government wanted to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing Aceh war.
"We emphasized that the separatist issue is our domestic affair, but especially the GAM leaders in Sweden, we asked for the Swedish government to do something against their citizens that lead the rebellion movement here in Indonesia," said State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra, paraphrasing the President after the meeting.
The six ambassadors were from the United States, B. Lynn Pascoe; Japan, Yutaka Iimura; Singapore Edward Lee; Sweden, Lennart Linner; the United Kingdom, Charles Humfrey and Libya's Charge d'Affaires Ali Mabrouk al-Sheriqy.
The ambassadors refused to comment to the local reporters after the meeting.
Susilo's appeal came after the Indonesian military earlier accused GAM separatist rebels of trying to disrupt the humanitarian relief work in Aceh, despite a tentative cease-fire called by each side. The latest in a series of recent flare-ups occurred on Sunday near the main United Nations compound in Banda Aceh.
The gunfire created concerns over the safety of hundreds of foreign and local humanitarian workers in the province, who are assisting hundreds of thousands of tsunami survivors.
Susilo responded by stating that the government would ensure the safety of all humanitarian workers in Aceh, and the government would push GAM not to interfere with the ongoing humanitarian operation in the province.
GAM rebels have been fighting for independence since 1976. The government launched a massive military operation against the rebels in May 2003 after the failure of peace talks in Tokyo, putting the oil- and gas-rich province under martial law.
The government has also been trying for several years to get the Swedish government to take legal action against GAM's top leaders, several of whom now hold Swedish citizenship.
Three of the key GAM leaders, Hasan Tiro, Malik Mahmood and Abdullah Zaini live in Stockholm and have been questioned several times by the local attorney general's office after Indonesia sent several files believed to implicate the three in crimes. The cases were apparently not deemed strong enough and no further legal action has been taken.
Malik Mahmood is believed to be a Singaporean citizen, while the other two are Swedish.
Yusril said that the U.S., UK and Japanese ambassadors were asked to attend the meeting as they had previously been involved in peace negotiations, while Libya had offered to assist Indonesia in ending the separatist problem in the province.
Meanwhile in Aceh, GAM Commander-in-Chief Muzakkir Manaf said that his troops would stick to their commitment to a cease-fire and hoped everyone would work together -- military troops, civilians, volunteers and journalists - in Aceh to focus on humanitarian relief.
"We have been in a defensive position since we unilaterally proposed a cease-fire. However, we may review our stance if the Indonesian Military (TNI) continues to blame us for every security disturbance that has taken place, despite the disaster," Muzakkir said in the statement made available to The Jakarta Post. Muzakkir's statement came amid conflicting accounts on who was responsible for Sunday's shooting.
Meanwhile, Coordinating Minister of People's Welfare Alwi Shihab, who is heading the country's relief efforts, was quoted by AP as saying that the burst of gunfire came from a "troubled" Indonesian soldier, not a rebel gunman.
Source: The Austalian
Date: 12 Jan 2005
Damien Kingsbury: Growing doubts on Aceh's relief effort
The arrival in Aceh of militant Islamic fundamentalist groups has raised the prospect of conflict with foreign aid workers and troops, including Australians, who are helping the tsunami relief operation. Indonesian and Australian authorities have claimed the Islamist organisations do not pose an immediate threat, and that the Indonesian military (TNI) can provide sufficient security.
But this was the claim made in East Timor in 1999, when the TNI actively supported militias. There are some parallels with Aceh.
The leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) has already threatened foreigners by saying un-Islamic behaviour in public, such as drinking alcohol, will not be tolerated. The even more militant Laskar Mujahidin (LM), which is also in Aceh, has engaged in sectarian warfare against Christians in Ambon and Central Sulawesi.
The presence of these organisations in Aceh has disturbed many Acehnese, not least the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has rejected them as corrupting Islam. While GAM members are devout Sunni Muslims, GAM itself is not an Islamic organisation and it rejects Islamic fundamentalism.
Radical Islamist organisations have attempted to work in Aceh in the past, in particular the Laskar Jihad and, more recently, Jemaah Islamiah. GAM rejected their advances and they found no support among local Acehnese.
For a province that has suffered almost three decades of conflict, the presence of TNI-backed militias is not new, and many see the FPI in particular as just another imported militia organisation. The FPI began life in August 1998 as a civilian militia, organised by military leaders to attack pro-democracy protesters.
Under the leadership of a Saudi educated Arab-Indonesian, Habib Rizieq, the FPI took on a more explicitly Islamist hue, smashing up bars and nightclubs it claimed offended Islamic faith. The FPI also operates "protection" rackets in Jakarta and elsewhere, and is comprised mostly of street thugs.
LM is a much more disciplined and focused organisation, being the military wing of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), which was established and headed by alleged Jemaah Islamiah leader Abu Bakar Bashir.
LM fielded the most highly trained and well-armed militia in the Ambon and central Sulawesi conflicts. The TNI retains active links with the FPI, and although its association with LM is far more murky, being through military intelligence, the LM was armed with standard issue TNI weapons and uniforms during combat in Ambon.
There is an increasing view in Aceh that these organisations have not been brought in to help, but to act as a third force in the conflict between GAM and the TNI.
This view is supported by official Indonesian Government financing of the organisations to travel to Aceh. The strategy of introducing militias has proven effective where predominantly Javanese militias operate in central Aceh. But the Javanese have not been welcomed in the more populated coastal areas. Hence the arrival of groups that some believe can appeal to the Islamic faith of the local population.
Meanwhile, the TNI is trying to present GAM as the only security threat to the aid program. It has claimed that GAM guerillas have dressed as TNI soldiers and redirected refugees and aid. The TNI has a history of being less than frank about its own activities and it is unlikely that GAM has the capacity or interest in dressing as TNI, especially when it is currently under sustained TNI attack.
GAM declared a ceasefire the day after the tsunami struck, and says it has stuck to that despite being attacked (the two TNI losses have been acknowledged as being from "friendly fire").
The deteriorating security situation, therefore, appears to be largely of the TNI's making. The question is why at this time of great disaster?
Outsiders have had limited access to Aceh for many years and after May 2003 it was effectively closed off during the TNI's bid to finally crush GAM.
The TNI was initially reluctant to allow in foreign aid workers and it has been clear that it wants them to leave as soon as possible. As it did when the UN was bundled out of East Timor after the ballot in 1999, a deteriorating security environment provides the perfect justification to achieve that.
The TNI cannot conduct its campaign against GAM and many ordinary Acehnese with the eyes of the world fixed on it. Nor, under such scrutiny, can the TNI rake off a large share of the aid that is currently flowing in to Aceh, although even with their presence some TNI personnel are selling food aid to refugees. It has been a rule of thumb in Indonesia that only about 10 per cent of aid arrives where it is intended.
There are various unofficial "taxes", and inflated construction and transport costs by TNI companies. Aid officials in Aceh are hoping they can keep losses down to about 30 per cent.
Access to some of the hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money would, however, help fund the TNI's campaign in Aceh, which ran out of money in mid-2004. As a largely self-funded institution, the TNI has a quick eye for a dollar. The TNI is also committed to containing GAM, at least to the extent that it only provides an excuse to maintain a military - and business - presence in Aceh. Therefore, if Aceh's security is now an issue, one need not look far for the principal cause.
Damien Kingsbury is director of International and Community Development at Deakin University and author of Power Politics and the Indonesian Military (RoutledgeCurzon) and The Politics of Indonesia (third edition, Oxford). He recently completed an Australia Research Council project on TNI business activities.
Date: 12 Jan 2005
Safety of Aceh aid workers not guaranteed - Indonesia
BANDA ACEH: Indonesia cannot assure the safety of aid workers across the tsunami-devastated Aceh province, where separatists have been waging a decades-old civil war, the relief operations chief said yesterday.
Budi Atmaji told a news conference aid agencies would need permission to work outside the provincial capital Banda Aceh and the town of Meulaboh, the latter just 150km from the epicentre of the magnitude 9 earthquake that struck on December 26.
When asked if some places in Aceh were not safe for international aid workers, Atmaji said: "Yes, in some places."
"Recommendation is needed from the TNI (Indonesian military) before the United Nations (and other aid agencies) can go other places. If there is no recommendation, it is much better we use our people to enter those areas," he said.
He said the safety of international aid agencies could not be assured outside Banda Aceh and Meulaboh because the resources of the Indonesian military had been stretched by the humanitarian relief efforts in Aceh.
Most of Indonesia's 104,000 deaths from the quake and ensuing tsunami occurred in Aceh, which lies on the northern tip of Sumatra island. The tsunami has killed at least 156,000 people around the Indian Ocean.
For three decades separatist GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) has been fighting the government for independence for Aceh. At least 12,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.
Both sides made conciliatory gestures after the tsunami but have since accused one another of initiating several clashes, raising concerns the flow of international aid to survivors of the tsunami disaster could be disrupted.
Chief of the Indonesian military, General Endriartono Sutarto, said there was a danger GAM could attack foreign aid workers or foreign troops working in Aceh.
"You know that killing a foreigner here (in Aceh) will attract international attention and they (GAM) need it," Sutarto was quoted as saying in The Jakarta Post newspaper.
Aceh is under a civil emergency status following a year of martial law aimed at crushing GAM rebels, and access for foreign aid groups and media was heavily restricted until the province was struck by the earthquake and tsunami.
The Aceh conflict has been marked by deliberate killings of non-combatants, kidnappings, extortion and brutal human rights violations that have disrupted life in the province of 4 million since 1976.
Mike Huggins, a spokesman for the World Food Programme in Banda Aceh, appeared surprised by the warning, but not too concerned that the safety of aid workers could be threatened.
"We have a police presence at our compound in Banda Aceh but we have no reason to believe that GAM would want to do anything untoward," Huggins said.