Monday, February 07, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ Reports from Peureulak

Reports from Peureulak (Aceh) by LF (PhD Graduate from University of Oxford). Thanks to RJ who relays them to me. Again, TNI abuse their power and take the law on their own hands at the expense of civilians.

The following reports were prepared by volunteers from local Acehnese human rights organisations. In the translations below I have left out the names of the groups to protect their identities. (LF)

Below, also please find an article from last Thursday's Newsday in which another brutal incident against civilians by the TNI is outlined in detail. We might justifiably consider that the lack of more reports of similar incidents is due to the difficulties in collecting the details surrounding them and then sending out the reports. (RJ)

I think the message is loud and clear that "violence begets violence". TNI's ongoing strategy to handle GAM rebels is not working, and it can only deeply victimized the innocent civilians and sow hatred in the heart of Acehnese.


Eyewitness Report: The Search and Destroy Operation by Indonesian Marine Corps at Chot Keh Village, Peureulak, East Aceh

Date of Incident: 19 January 2005

Chot Keh is one of those villages located about two kilometers north of Peureulak, East Aceh. Since the armed conflict in Aceh this village has been known to the locals as a "Black "Area" (danger zone) due to the very frequent clashes between the Indonesian military (TNI) and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Armed contacts between the warring parties and search and destroy operations (Operasi Penyisiran) carried out by the Indonesian military have frequently resulted in fatal casualites (sic) among innocent civilians there. The villagers seem to have accepted this condition as a fact of life that they have to endure and many of them have been victims of extortions by the combatants.

On 19 January, 2005, the writer was in Chot Keh when TNI carried out a surprise raid on the village, conducting house to house checks by the Marines from the operational command post (Posko) of Cot Kulam and Beusa Meuranoe village in Matang Seuleumak, Peureulak. The writer saw 40 fully armed members of the Marines Corps carried out the operation from 05:00 am to 08:00 am in the Chot Keh village when they told every one in the village to wake up and gather in the field in front of the village chief's house (Geuchik).

After villagers had been gathered, they were told by the TNI forces to surrender their identity cards. The commander of the troops then spoke to the villagers telling them to cooperate with the security forces in order to make the military operation in Aceh a success if they wanted to live peacefully and in security. They were asked to always provide information to the TNI on the movements of the GAM guerillas, and to never protect, give food or money to GAM. In the speech the commander also said that a GAM member called Nago who was arrested sometime ago, had escaped and it was strongly suspected that he was hiding in Chot Keh village. The villagers were told to reveal his whereabouts. But no one could give the soldiers any information about the wanted man; it is not known if the villagers really did not know or that they were afraid of the consequences of telling the military.

Because nobody could or wanted to reveal the guerilla's whereabouts, the Resort Military Comammander (sic) (KORAMIL) issued a warning, that if his troops caught up with the escapee around the village, he would arrest all the villagers. The troops then returned to the villagers their identity cards.

At the time of writing, the TNI is still unable to find a single member of GAM from this village. The villagers are still safe for the time being, but they are very fearful of the possibility of a further action by the military.


Special Report: Sweeping Operation, Confiscation of Possessions, Kidnapping, Beating, and Shooting of Civilians (2-3 February 2005)


Case: Sweeping Operation, Confiscation of Possessions, Kidnapping, Beating, and Shooting of Civilians
Location of Incident: Seunubok Jalan- Alue Niroh- Pereulak Timur Subdistrict- Aceh Timur
Assailant: TNI Raider Company Kemarang-2 Unit 312 and Battalion Cavalry 3 Adhaka Sakti
Victims: Nilawati Binti Abbas, Abdurrachman, and several villagers
Time of Incident: 18:30-19:45
Date of Incident: 2-3 February, 2005


Arbitrary Arrest, Confiscation of Possessions, Beating of Civilians
18:30-19:45, 2 February, 2005, a joint group of TNI soldiers from Raider Company Kemarang, 2 Unit 312, based at command post of Bukit Telkom Alue Niroh, Peureulak Timur Subdistrict and TNI Battalion 8 Cavalry, based at the post of Seunubok Jalan Alue Niroh, Kecamatan Peureulak Timur, Aceh Timur, conducted a large-scale "sweeping" operation. A total of 122 personnel were mobilised for this operation, and were lined up along 200 meters of the Medan-Banda Aceh road, at the crossing 348.

A number of civilians who were travelling in private vehicles were stopped by soldiers who checked their vechicles (sic) and identity cards (Kartu Tanda Penduduk, or KTP). According to villagers, soliders (sic) also took the contents of their wallets, confiscated jewelry from some of the women passengers, and beat many of the men. During the incident, a resident from Seumangat Keude Alue Niroh-Peureulak Timur Subdistrict-Aceh Timur, was arrested by the Joint Intelligence Force (Satuan Gabungan Intelejen, SGI) based at Kota Peureulak, 395km from Banda Aceh. The victim was beaten until he fainted, and then thrown into a Unimog military truck. The victim, whose whereabouts remain unknown until today, has been identified as:

Abdurrachman Bin Sulaiman, male, 38 years, farmer, resident of Sematang Keude Alue Niroh, Peureulak Timur, Aceh Timur.

Following Abdurrachman's arrested at 19:15, a joint team of volunteers from "xxxx" conducted an investigation into his case, but were not able to obtain any further information. The volunteers did not dare ask the TNI about the victim's whereabouts, for the volunteers besides themselves already being under threat, the TNI had warned that they would kidnap or kill anyone who dared to tackle this case, or report it to the media or international groups. In addition, residents from outside Alue Niroh were not allowed into the village.

The names of the victims whose possessions were confiscated during the sweeping have not yet been fully collected, as many of them were outsiders travelling through the area. This data is in the process of being collected.

Shooting of a Pregnant Woman
At 18:15, a husband and wife pair departed from Dusun Suka Makmur Alue On-Babah Krung, Kecamatan Peureulak Raya for Sungoe Raya, Kecamatan Ranto Seulamat. They were intending to visit a clinic in the town, approximately 23km away, to seek a maternity check-up and treatment for the woman, Nilawaty binti Abbas, who was 3 months and 13 days pregnant.

About 15 minutes into their journey they were stopped by locals at the village of Seumatang Keude Alue Niroh, who warned the pair that they ought to stop their journey temporarily as the TNI were conducting a massive sweeping operation in the area, and that soldiers had beaten many locals and taken their possessions. The pair replied that they were grateful for the warning, but would continue their journey nonetheless, as they had brought their KTPs with them and afterall (sic) were only going to the clinic for a check-up.

As he was worried by the villagers warning, the husband, Nurdin bin Basyah, decided to stop by the home of Nilawaty's parents, who lived in the same village of Seumatang Keude. Nilawaty's father, Teungku Mohammad Abbas, suggested that he take his daughter to the clinic, as he also needed to pick up some medicine for Ekawaty's younger sibling who was down with fever. Nurdin agreed, and Tgk. Abbas and Ekawaty departed on a Honda Astrea motorcycle.

As soon as they reached the location of the sweeping, Seunubok Jalan-Alue Niroh, they were stopped at a check-point by five Raider soldiers, who checked their KTPs and destination before allowing them to resume their journey. However, a mere 145 meters from the first post, the father and daughter were called to stop again by soldiers from the Cavalry force, who fired gunshots as a warning. Because they had not had any problems at the first checkpoint, Tgk. Abbas did not stop the vehicle, but just slowed down. Suddenly, they heard a single gunshot fired by TNI soldiers who were stationed at command post Cavalry Unit 3. The instruction to shoot was given by the post commander, Dual Cavalry Lieutenant Rhubi Iswady - NKP: 11010026970679.

The victim, Nilawaty binti M. Abbas, 21 years old, immediately fell to the ground. Her father, Tgk. Abbas, stopped the motorcycle abruptly. The victim had been shot in the right side of the head, directly above the ear. The victim's ear had been split by the bullet, which remained lodged in the victimís skull. At that moment several soldiers surrounded the victim's father, shouting at him, "this is a consequence of your refusal to stop. Now you have to bring back the body of your child to be buried."

Nilawaty was still alive immediately following the incident, and Tgk. Abbas was helped by several locals to rush her to the General Hospital at Kota Langsa. The victim passed away upon her father's lap en route to the hospital, at 20:15.

Victim of shooting:
  • Nilawaty Binti Mohammad Abbas, 21, private company employee and housewife, resident of Dusun Suka Makmur-Alue On-Babah Krung-Kecamatan Peureulak Raya.
  • Victim's husband: Nurdin bin Mohammad Basyah, 27, farmer, dusun Suka Makmur, Peureulak Raya.
  • Victim's father: Mochammad Abbas, 55 years, RBT mechanic.

Threats against the Victim's Family
At 08:15, 03/02/05, 85 TNI personnel came to the home of the victim's parents in Seumatang Keude Alu Niroh, where the victim's body was being prepared for burial. Soldiers guarded the house, and people other than residents of the village were not allowed to visit the victim's family. Journalists who wanted to confirm the incident were not allowed to approach the location. Several activists from "xxxx" who had intended to visit the family's home as part of their investigation of the case, were also unable to meet with members of the victim's family due to tight TNI restrictions. Finally, the investigation team cancelled their plans to confirm information directly from the victim's family and instead gathered information from locals in the area.

At 11:45 on the same day, the Commander of Cavalry Battalion 3 Adhaka Sakti came to the victim's home, shortly before the victim's corpse was to be brought from the house to the burial site. The Lieutenant Colonel did not apologise to the family of the victim, but instead issued the following warning:

"We hope that this case will not be discussed any further. What you and your relatives witnessed yesterday occurred during our efforts to ensure the people's security. We do not want the news to be spread to the media or the public that TNI was responsible for the shooting. We want only one message from the community, that GAM was responsible for the shooting of a civilian. If any other information is spread, then do not be saddened if we take necessary action. If anybody asks, it was GAM who shot your loved one, not TNI. That is what must come from your own mouths, do you understand?"

At 13:00 on the same day, a team from the Provincial Military Command (Komando Daerah Militer, KODAM) Iskandar Muda, visited the home of the victim, to obtain information about the incident. They asked the family of the victim who was responsible for the shooting, and informed them that according to the report that given by the Commander of KOLAKOPS (Combat Command) troops, Major General Bambang Darmonto, the shooting was conducted by GAM guerrillas.

This report was based on early investigations by a joint team of civilian activists. A fuller investigation is underway and more detailed reports will be prepared accordingly.


Newsday [Long Island, NY]
February 3, 2005
Indonesia, Rebels Continue Clashes

Skirmishes hamper tsunami relief efforts, pose a risk to survivors and aid workers, and dim the chances for upcoming peace talks.

By Letta Tayler - Staff Correspondent

Bukit Barisan Mountain Range, Indonesia -- The armed rebels huddled in the drizzle in their remote mountain hideout, a cluster of bamboo platforms and tattered tarps in a mosquito-infested jungle.

Under a makeshift canopy, two fighters who had been ambushed by the Indonesian army a few days earlier fretted that they had no fresh bandagesfor their gunshot wounds.

Did the visitors bring the cigarettes, asked Muharram, the rebels' camouflage-clad commander, explaining that supplies were scarce since the army had pushed his men deep into the interior. What about the antibiotics for the wounded fighters? And might he have the reporter's flashlight when she left?

Despite pledges from the Indonesian army and separatist rebels to halt their protracted guerrilla war during tsunami recovery efforts, the military is clashing with the guerrillas almost daily in Aceh Province, ground zero of the Dec. 26 disaster.

The skirmishes are posing a risk to tsunami survivors and to scores of international relief groups operating in western Aceh. They also have dimmed prospects for upcoming peace talks to end three decades of conflict.

Indonesian authorities contend they are striking the rebels in self-defense. They paint the separatists as a threat to relief operations, saying they are stealing humanitarian food handouts and could kill or kidnap aid workers. But in a rare interview at his mountain camp, Muharram, who like many Acehnese uses one name, blamed the Indonesian armed forces, saying they are capitalizing on the chaos that followed the tsunami to rout the rebels and terrorize civilians so they won't back the separatists. "It's the Indonesian military that won't stop its attacks," said Muharram, a wiry, muscular man of 30 whose fatigues were emblazoned with the star-and-crescent flag of Aceh. He also said the military, not the rebels, was stealing relief supplies.

"We welcome the international workers that have come here to aid the tsunami victims," Muharram said as he sat cross-legged on a tarp in his hideaway, guarded by two dozen armed men. "Please tell them, do not leave until the misery is over."

The army claims to have killed more than 200 rebels in skirmishes since the tsunami -- nearly double the toll in months preceding the disaster -- but most of those dead are civilians, according to Muharram, northwestern provincial commander for the Free Aceh Movement, known by its Acehnese acronymn, GAM.

Military officials deny any wrongdoing. "Our focus right now is humanitarian aid. We're here to protect the people, not hurt them," armed forces spokesman Ahmad Yani Basuki said on Sunday in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh. The only reason for the high death toll, he said, is that "we'll fire back when we're fired on." He said any civilians killed were GAM agents.

But many villagers in the skirmish areas sided with the rebels' version of events, and the army's credibility has been tarnished by a history of corruption, brutality and plunder.

Representatives of several international relief groups said they hadn't encountered major problems with either side, but were concerned the violence could jeopardize relief efforts.

The tsunami killed at least 100,000 people and left 130,000 missing along the western coast of Aceh. It forced the government to open the province to foreign relief workers and journalists for the first time since May 2003, when thearmy launched a failed blitz to crush the separatists.

But hearing the rebels' side of the story remains difficult. Aceh is crawling with Indonesian troops and the military has ordered foreign aid workers and journalists to report all their movements, ostensibly to protect them from the rebel.

It took several aborted attempts and a grueling, 3 ½-hour, nighttime trek through the jungle last week to reach Muharram and his men, who received their visitors with smiles. The route cut through swaths of tsunami-devastated coast, past rotting, bug-infested corpses, over mounds of debris, through stinking puddles and into thorny brush. The final leg was so steep and slippery that ascending required a crawl through the mud. Kalashnikov-wielding guides led the way, one of them a skinny young man wearing a tight black T-shirt emblazoned with the word "peace."

With many couriers and traditional supply routes wiped out by the tsunami, the rebels were clearly hurting. Some even lacked boots. They also were under emotional siege -- all lost relatives or friends and some risked death to sneakinto shelters and villages to visit loved ones or bring food and medicine to survivors.

Nevertheless, the GAM insisted they haven't lost their will to battle for secession from Indonesia -- a struggle that has claimed 11,000 lives since1976. "If there is no peaceful solution, we'll continue to fight," vowed Muharram, his cell phone in one hand and his Kalashnikov in the other. He spoke as the Indonesian government and GAM's overseas representatives opened preliminary peace talks in Finland. There may be a second round.

Muharram, who commands about 1,000 fighters, said the rebels welcome U.S. troops, who are delivering relief to remote areas. But he gently rapped the U.S.government, along with Britain and Australia, for not pressuring Indonesia more forcefully toward negotiations. "Why does the United States remain silent about our misery?" he asked.

The rebels want to turn Aceh into a democratic monarchy "similar to Britain," Muharram said. A former sultanate, Aceh has been ruled by outsiders since the Dutch colonized it in the 1870s. Since Indonesia's independence in 1950, the national government has exploited the province's abundant gas and oil reserves, while the army has murdered, raped and tortured at will, according to international observers including Human Rights Watch.

Flipping through a notebook, Muharram read a list of what he described as the latest army assaults on GAM and civilians in violation of the temporary cease-fire. They included killings, maiming, kidnappings and razing of homes.

The army has confirmed it killed seven men in early January in the village of Lhamlhom, just south of Banda Aceh. It said they were GAM; the rebels insist the men were civilians. Asked about the incident on a recent day, several villagers signaled they couldn't talk, pointing nervously to troops patrolling nearby. "It's too dangerous," one man whispered.

Civilians were more forthcoming in a camp for tsunami survivors in the township of Lamreh, a 45-minute drive east of Banda Aceh, where soldiers shot dead a 17-year-old student nearly two weeks ago.

The student, Dodi, had gone up the mountain with his girlfriend, who saw the troops shoot him without provocation when he accidentally came upon a rebel eating lunch, say friends and relatives.

"He survived the tsunami but not the army," said Dodi's father, Husni Aswin, his face twisted in disbelief. Dodi had wanted to join the military, his father and friends said.

The day Dodi was killed, a group of soldiers also marched into a shelter for tsunami survivors in nearby Ujung Lanchang, lined up the 30 camp residents and began shouting, "Where are the GAM?" according to people who had been rounded up.

When the tsunami survivors replied that they didn't know, they said, the troops separated the women and made them strip to their underwear, an act of deep humiliation in Islamic society, whether ordered by Muslims or non-Muslims. The soldiers also made the men strip to their underwear and lie on the ground, where they beat them and fired guns near their heads, some of the men said. They said the troops took three men for questioning at a nearby military base, and only two returned.

International human rights groups say GAM has committed its own share of kidnappings and extortion, though at a far lower level. Muharram said the group is no longer involved in such activities.

Indonesia experts say grinding poverty and a lack of services for the 4 million people in this oil-rich province contribute to GAM's widespread support. Even in Banda Aceh, with its concentration of government and military posts, young men furtively show off rebel paraphernalia. "The army would slit my throat if it saw this," one youth said as he proudly flashed a cell phone screen showing a GAM flag.

As they hung clothes from ropes stretched across a clearing and placed crimson chili peppers to dry in the scorching sun that followed the tropical rains, rebels in the mountain hide-out described the farming and fishing villages they had left behind as filled with hopelessness and terror even before the tsunami.

"The army has murdered and raped. It shot my father's cousin in front of his eyes. I want to take revenge," said Jaka, a baby-faced 20-year-old who was shot four times in the stomach and torso in last week's ambush.

Since then, Jaka has been weak and dizzy. Blood was seeping through the patches on his wounds.

But he still has his AK-56 assault rifle.

"I'll keep fighting," Jaka vowed. "Until I've shed my last drop of blood."

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