Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ Outcry of Ordinary Acehnese

Messages from ordinary Acehnese in the tsunami-stricken areas. In chronological order. Highlights are mine.


Source: Washington Post - Foreign Service
Date: 31 Jan 2005

Indonesians Wary of Relocation Centers
Army Supervision Looms Over Tsunami Refugees
By Alan Sipress - Page A17

LAMBARO, Indonesia -- Along a narrow country road in Aceh province, the wood frames and peaked roofs of five barracks are beginning to rise from a marshy field. The Indonesian government plans to evict the few cows and goats grazing beside an army camp within two weeks and welcome into the new structures about 500 Acehnese uprooted by the tsunami late last month.

While international relief officials say relocation centers like the one in Lambaro are a good alternative for some whose homes were obliterated by the floods, aid workers and refugees acknowledged they remained wary of the role the Indonesian military would play in guarding and perhaps supervising the sites.

In recent years, the military has frequently herded Acehnese from their homes into camps so soldiers could hunt rebel fighters who have been battling for an independent homeland on the tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island since 1976. Villagers complained that they were often mistreated in these camps during periods of martial law and were prevented from carrying on their daily activities, including working the fields.

The Lambaro relocation center will be among the first of 24 compounds now being built across the province to house at least 30,000 refugees. Shelters for up to another 60,000 are to be erected afterward, according to Indonesian officials.

Robert Turner, of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said some relief agencies were concerned about the military's role in the proposed centers because of its track record in Aceh. He said the agencies were working with the Indonesian government to ensure the camps met international standards.

"Relocation by itself is not a bad thing. It's obviously necessary. We just want to help the government do it in the best way possible," Turner said.

The military's official role in the development of the centers is limited to securing them -- the province's civilian government will do most of the work in running them -- but military considerations have become a factor in designing them.

The commander of Indonesian forces in Aceh, Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, ordered that the centers be built close enough to a village so that soldiers could monitor who enters and leaves them, according to Mawardy Nurdin, who oversees the development of the centers for Aceh's public works department. He said the military wanted to ensure that food provided to the refugees did not reach the rebels.

The buildings were initially designed like army barracks, with rooms connected to a central corridor. The Indonesian government changed this layout after U.N. and other international relief officials suggested the rooms face the outside, providing occupants with moreprivacy from their neighbors.

Some refugees interviewed at temporary campsites on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, said they would not object to living in relocation centers guarded by soldiers. But they said they hoped the soldiers' role would be minimal.

"I don't have a problem with the soldiers as long as they don't disturb us and they keep their distance," said Salahudin, 35, a tall, muscular carpenter from Ajun village as he sat in a long green tent at a chaotic refugee camp. "But if we could choose, I'd prefer not be guarded by the soldiers because, based on my experience, they limit our movement."

But others, like a homeless shop owner from Banda Aceh named Mulyadi, said they opposed any role for the military.

"With the military, you can't move around easily," said Mulyadi, 35, as he collected building debris to expand the tent where he has lived for the last month. "I've had enough bad experiences with the military during martial law when they treated me inhumanely."

He said he feared the soldiers would interfere with his ability to look for work outside the center, stopping him if he returned after nightfall and interrogating him about his activities. He suggested the refugees guard themselves.

"There's really no security threat to us," Mulyadi added. "I really don't need to be guarded by the military."

The presence of soldiers might actually invite rebel attacks, warned Nursiah, 55, of Lhoknga village. She said she had no quarrel with the military but was afraid of getting caught up in a skirmish.

Under the initiative being developed by the government in consultation with international agencies, relocation centers each include up to 40 wooden barracks, with each building housing 100 people. The occupants will be chosen by local officials.

Though the program will provide shelter to only about a quarter of the 400,000 people displaced by the tsunami, Mawardy said the barracks should accommodate most of those who were truly homeless. He said many refugees still had houses that could be occupied oncerepairs were made or electricity, roads and other infrastructure restored.

Some foreign relief groups have warned that wooden barracks could turn into permanent dwellings if plans are not quickly put in place to return the refugees to their home villages. These groups initially urged Indonesia to establish tent camps to be used for six months.
But Indonesian officials balked, saying the country would not be able to rebuild the estimated 45,000 homes destroyed by the tsunami that fast.

"It takes time. It takes money in the budget. We're going to need two years," Mawardy said.

Some refugees will leave the centers sooner, opting to return to their own villages as soon as possible, he said. Others said they did not intend to move into the centers at all.

"We wouldn't like staying in the barracks because the soldiers will put us in a corner and threaten us. We won't be free to move around, like going to the rice paddies," said Samidan, 41, a minibus driver from Lhoknga squatting near the entrance of a silver tent in a makeshift camp, swatting flies. "Here, in this tent, I am free."

Refugees such as Samidan have the option to remain outside the centers, according to Indonesian and foreign officials. They stressed that no one would be forced to live under the guard of Indonesia's military, commonly known by the initials TNI.

Richard Luff, senior program director for Oxfam, said foreign relief groups must be aware of the military's history in Aceh. But so far, he said, the groups have seen no reason to doubt the government's intention to provide shelter for the refugees.

"TNI of course will want to play a broad security role," he said. "The concern is that role should be one of security and protection and not one of controlling and limiting people's movement of free will."

For many refugees, like Fazriati, a young mother with bright eyes and a ponytail, finding clean, safe shelter is of greater concern than the military's role. Sitting on a woven mat inside a tent erected in the gravel parking lot of a mosque, Fazriati, 24, said she was eager to move into a relocation center as soon as possible.

"We have to leave here. This is a dirty place. It leaks in the rain," she said, bouncing her 3-month-old son on her lap. She and 14 relatives now share a 15-by-6-foot living space, partitioned from the rest of the tent by a soiled tarp, after their home and furniture workshop in nearby Lam Isiek village was leveled by the flood.

"The most important thing is our welfare and a location far from the ocean," she said.

Special correspondent Yayu Yuniar contributed to this report.


Source: Aceh Kita
Date: 31 Jan 2005

The "Glass house" of Calang Refugee
Reporter: Alfian Hamzah - Calang, 2005-01-31 13:46:13

Calang, Pena Indonesia. The refugee areas at the slopes of Carak Hill, Calang, Aceh Jaya, started to glitter with roadside lamps. But not so with the mind of Rusdi Kasim, a survivor from Calang. "What good is a display for, when there is nothing to display?" He asked Pena Indonesia. "What good is electricity in slopes, if we not staying in our own house?"

Those refugees from Calang will be happier if they can return to their own places, Rusdi said. "I cannot live in slopes for long. This area tends to muddy when rain, not to mention about the mosquito."

The plan of the refugees from Calang, to rebuild their coastal housing, Rusdi said, has met an obstacle of the minimum amount tools and building materials. Especially for the Bahagia village, they only have 150 residents left from 600 before the accident, the plans faced an obstacle of the new building of housing complex built exactly on the ruin sites of the village complex, the new complex is the site for the new Marine forces housing complex.

"It will be a lot better if we switched places," Rusdi said. "Those authorities (the marines) lives here, and we get our houses back. If the government wanted to help, it is better to send us money or building materials, we would build our houses by ourselves."

Since January, the marines has enter the Bahagia village, and they build tens of tents in the village - included also an office for a high-rangking officer exactly on top of what left from the house of Rusdi Karim - and post a warning "No Entry" in several places. The warning, has discourages the surviving residents to check their houses.

"It is better to stay away then being scolded," Putra Noerma, a youth, 1983 born Calang resident, said. He also looses both of his parents and his two siblings.

Asnawi Ahman, the refugee from Calang, loosing his wife and only daughter, said that the military complex building in the village was done without the residents' permission. "What left from my home has turn into the military kitchen. Just imagine, just to look at my own house, I have to ask for permi," the Bahagia village is only one of the seven villages in Calang community.

So far, the government has appointed PT Wijaya Karya, to clean the ruin in Calang city.The same company, according to the Regional Secretary of Aceh Jaya region, Marwan, Sp., will build 25 refugee barracks.

The barrack location for Calang refugee has not been confirmed so far, Marwan said. But he makes sure that the location will be in a safe area, far from coastal line.

From a meeting of Civil authorities with Military Resort authority in Calang, Saturday (29/1), Pena Indonesia learns that the barrack will at least "6 kilometers from the water limit."

"Those guys are very easy to talk, move here, move there. Basically, even though our bupati (same level as mayor) said you will be transferred to a better place, we are not going to move. It is our birthplace, where our parents, ancestor, brethren lost. If we just move like that, what would those departed felt?" Rusdi said. [dan]

(English Version by: Uphiet)


Source: The Jakarta Post
Date: 2 Feb 2005

Jauhari cries over lost culture
By Emmy Fitri, Jakarta

After being a virtual war zone for decades, Aceh has not only seen the loss of its loved ones; its once vibrant and distinct culture is also in danger of being totally forgotten.

But who cares when many rather listen to high-profile political chatter? Perhaps, it might take the tsunami to enable the voices of ordinary people to be heard gain.

Musician Jauhari Samalanga and his community of artists, Nyawoung, (meaning "soul" in Acehnese), have spoken out about what they feel and their hopes that the Acehnese people will reclaim their long-lost identity.

When news of the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster first broke, Metro TV had saturation coverage of the events in Aceh. Jauhari's music, including the song Do Do Daidi (a lullaby) was used extensively as a backing track, as it seemed ideally suited, given the circumstances.

"The tsunami has taken a generation from our land. Children and babies, who perished in the disaster, never had the chance to know Acehnese culture and how rich is it," Jauhari said in an interview with The Jakarta Post last week.

What's left now must be given an opportunity; if there is no opportunity, we shall strive to make that happen so that some day people will still remember that we exist, added the father of two toddlers.

"Systematically" is perhaps the most politically correct word to describe how culture in Aceh has been removed from everyday life. Culture, with its integral customs and art, is waiting in the background, for its people live in constant fear and uncertainty.

"Our customs and art were almost killed off when the government imposed martial law in Aceh. People were no longer able to take part in any cultural events or gatherings, because in Aceh we live out most of our traditions at night," said Jauhari.

"For us, the night is the right time because it is time to rest our tired being after a hard day at work, and let our mind contemplate through dzikir (recitation), Dalail Khairat (an activity similar to dzikir) and Koran-reading."

The night curfew -- imposed since martial law was declared in 1989 (known as DOM) is the reason why people tend to stay at home after dusk and watch television rather than gathering at mosques and public places, for fear of being singled out as troublemakers.

"There is a ban on Seudati, which was once performed every night until morning," said the graduate of the Jakarta-based Indonesian Institute of Sociopolitical Studies (IISIP).

Seudati is a war dance, but when performed it usually incorporates an element of story-telling, updating the audience on what's new in their neighborhood and its vicinity.

Other forms of traditional art like Dalupa (satirical story telling) from the West coast of Aceh, Didong (poetry reading) from Takengon, Apa Raoh (musical, comic theater performance played on the violin) from the east coastal area, have gradually been replaced by popular, keyboard-based music or small dangdut shows in small towns.

"Can you imagine how long DOM lasted -- for 10 years -- and it was followed by martial law shortly after; for that long our culture has been virtually banished from every Acehnese's soul."
With some hope still alive, Jauhari migrated to Jakarta as soon as he married in 2000. Living as an artist was simply too hazardous in a location where people always felt unsafe to gather together to express themselves.

"Our art runs with our lives. Traditionally, we are very religious. Therefore, our art, too, is close to religious teachings. It's not static, either, but dynamic, with modern touches, too."

Before DOM, the late musician A. Bakar led the way for the recording of traditional music after he launched an album with the hit, Jin Jin Njuk (A Genie's Gift), full of inspirational lyrics reminding people of their relationship with God.

"It's very popular there and people love it," he said.

Since the imposition of DOM until today, lyrics created by local musicians have moved from simple reminders to satire, laden with political overtones.

"Composing lyrics is like writing a diary of what we know and feel. It's our history that we are writing. Some might consider our work rebellious but that depends on the listener," he said.

His song Yang Na (Those who Exist) tells of a brave officer who, armed only with a rifle, "dares" to hit an unarmed civilian. Because of this song, Jauhari was asked by his distributors -- at the behest of the Indonesian Military (TNI) in Aceh -- to pull the album from the shelves and remix it minus the song, if he wanted it distributed legally.

Another song, Haro Hara (Chaos) was also cited as the cause of the ban.

"We are articulating what the public is already aware of -- even for those who live outside Aceh -- like the Simpang KKA massacre, Reumah Geudong, and the killing of Tengku Bantaqiah in Haro Hara," he said.

He was lucky enough not to be questioned or imprisoned.

"An army general there said my songs were considered provocative and subversive," he added.

Jauhari doesn't intend to go into politics -- that's not his cup of tea -- but said, "if we talk about culture in Aceh then we have to face the fact that we're talking about a major shift in culture because of long-term political oppression."

The change, for the worse, has also occurred in his hometown, Simpang Mamplam, Samalanga, near Bireuen.

On his last visit he could only pass by and look out from a speeding car; the small town had become part of history. In 2002, houses there were set ablaze and the people told to leave the town after two Brimob (Police Mobile Brigade) personnel, were killed near the local market.

"I almost cried when I passed (my hometown). Everything's gone. I long to sit in the coffee shop with my friends. At night we would look for crabs or hunt deer to be cooked and eaten near the paddy fields," Jauhari said, recalling such simple pleasures.

"My children are still too young but I want them to learn the Acehnese way of life -- even our simple way of enjoying life like being with friends and sharing what we have," said Jauhari, who is an avid fan of the music of Genesis, Toto and Michael Frank.

Jauhari and his community are undeterred by what they perceive as the iron-fisted policy imposed on their homeland. In the wake of the tsunami, he pledges to resume his soul-searching, cultural mission. He wants to help his fellow Acehnese and remind them of their long-forgotten identity.

"I'm not afraid of anything except Allah. If I'm banned in Aceh, then I'll sing in Jakarta. And if banned here, I can still compose songs and send them abroad," he said.

"We just want our people to stand tall again and see that they have a culture that was once so vibrant and bermarwah (dignified)," he said, wistfully.

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