Sunday, February 13, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ Struggling through Cease Fire and Peace Talks

A selection of articles as part of "Crisis in Aceh" series that focus on the process to permanent peace in Aceh. In chronological order and the highlights are mine.


BBC, Monday, 7 February, 2005

Indonesia troops kill Aceh rebels

Indonesian troops have killed at least seven suspected rebels in the province of Aceh, an army spokesman has said.

The rebels, from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), were killed after an army patrol noticed them heading towards a refugee camp, said Ari Mulya Asnawi.

The army has accused the rebels of taking aid destined for victims of last year's devastating tsunami.

In the wake of the disaster, the government and rebels held their first face-to-face talks in almost two years.

Both had agreed to an unofficial ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of aid to affected regions.

But the talks - in the Finnish capital Helsinki - ended without agreement, and the two sides are expected to meet again later in February.

Aceh's GAM separatists
The seven rebels were killed on Sunday near the rebel stronghold of Bireuen, said army spokesman Ari Mulya Asnawi.

Another suspected rebel was also captured and three rifles confiscated, Mr Asnawi added. He told the Spanish news agency EFE that GAM members had been asking local villagers and those in refugee camps for food and help to continue their separatist campaign.

The army has even accused rebels of attacking aid convoys - a charge they have vigorously denied.

Abdullah Zaini, a GAM spokesman living in exile in Sweden, told the Associated Press that he was unaware of the deaths on Sunday. But he added that the military seemed determined to continue combat operations despite the tsunami.

"It just shows that the Indonesian army does not care about the need for peaceful conditions in order to enable the relief operation," Mr Zaini said.

Indonesia has so far buried more than 111,000 people who died in the December tsunami, while more than 127,000 others remain missing, the government said last week.

Aceh: Key Facts
Gas-rich province on the north-western tip of Sumatra Higher percentage of Muslims than other parts of Indonesia GAM rebels have fought decades-long separatist campaign Internationally brokered peace deal made in Dec 2002 but collapsed in May 2003 year-long military crackdown weakened GAM, but failed to capture senior members.


Indonesia army says kills five rebels in Aceh

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The Indonesian military said on Wednesday it had killed at least five separatist rebels in two clashes in tsunami-devastated Aceh province where foreign aid workers are operating.

The clashes took place on Tuesday, military and rebel sources told Reuters.

Security has been a major concern for aid workers on the northwestern tip of Sumatra island, where Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels have been fighting for independence since 1976.

"There were two exchanges of fire in East Aceh regency. Of course there were victims. Around five GAM members were killed," said Ari Mulya, spokesman for the Lhokseumawe military command.

He said no soldiers were killed in the clashes. Lhokseumawe is a city on the east coast of Aceh province.

Tengku Jamaica, a GAM spokesman, said eight rebels died in the clashes.

"The TNI (Indonesian military) troops attacked GAM members in East Aceh. Five GAM members were killed and the TNI also seized four AK-47s and one pistol," he said by telephone.

"The second attack was... in Peurelak district in East Aceh. That killed three GAM members."

Moves toward peace in Aceh emerged in the wake of the Dec. 26 tsunami, which devastated parts of the province and left more than 230,000 people killed or missing.

Jakarta and GAM traded offers to stop shooting after the disaster. But the Indonesian military has said it has killed more than 200 rebels since the giant waves crashed ashore.

Renewed peace talks in Helsinki in late January ended with no accord. GAM insists on ultimate independence.


Malaysia, Germany urge Aceh rebels to seek lasting peace

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb. 10 (AP): Malaysia's deputy prime minister and visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Thursday urged rebels in Indonesia's Aceh province to use the tsunami disaster as an opportunity to reach a lasting peace.

The rebels have been fighting since 1976 for independence, but the Indonesian government wants them to agree to wide-ranging autonomy. The two sides held talks in Helsinki, Finland, last month in an attempt to restart the peace process.

"Both sides should take advantage of the aftermath of the tsunami to face the new realities," Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said. "Hopefully both sides will realize the importance of working out a political solution."

Fischer, who was to tour devastated Aceh on Friday, expressed hope "that this terrible catastrophe for this nation would lead to constructive talks."

"Our hope is in the end there will be a successful result in the interests of the people of Aceh and the Indonesian people," Fischer said.

Aceh was hardest hit by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 163,000 people in 11 nations.


11 February 2005

Open Letter from the Forum of Aceh People (Forum Rakyat) to the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

Dear Secretary Rice:

We, The Forum of Aceh People, an Acehnese civil society group who work for peace and democracy in Aceh, have read that you intend to re open the IMET military training program for Indonesia and build again a structural relationship with the Indonesian military. We urge you not to do this.

Reopening the IMET program would be a betrayal by the US government of the people of Indonesia who are still struggling for democracy and of the Acehnese who want to liberate themselves from military oppression and who are still recovering from the Tsunami disaster.

Such a move would be in contrast to the voice of many pro democracy activists and would be reminiscent of the old counterproductive US policy of showing support for the TNI (Indonesian armed forces) even as it is killing civilians.

The Indonesia military has long been the enemy of democracy in Indonesia. Unfortunately they are still the same. The biggest source of violence in Indonesia in recent decades has not been terrorist groups but state-sponsored violence led by the government's own military, the TNI. An essential feature of the military apparatus has been the territorial command system, which creates structures shadowing the civilian government down to the sub-district level, and even has non-commissioned officers posted at the village level. Members of the armed forces played a role in creating some of the radical Islamist groups. Human rights defenders were
targeted, including the recent assassination of Munir the most prominent human rights figure in Indonesia.

For Acehnese, like for the East Timorese, the Indonesian military has been involved in great human rights abuses toward the local people, but unlike the East Timor killing, which is a thing of the past, this military oppression is still happening at the moment in Aceh. Before the horrific disaster rocked Aceh and killed over 250 thousand people, the military role in Aceh had killed at least 15,000 Acehnese. Aceh is still under military control under the civil emergency status imposed by the Indonesian government on Aceh before the Tsunami. Thousands of members of the military who had been in East Timor have been sent to Aceh and are now applying the same tactics, kidnapping, killing and and staging forced disappearances of many civilians in Aceh.

It would be wrong for Secretary Rice to assume that giving further US support to the Indonesian military will help the situation. Restoring the IMET would have a very dangerous effect: it would greatly strengthen the political position of the military in Indonesia. It would give the Indonesia military more confidence that the US government is supporting them and is on their side despite their continuing and unpunished crimes in Aceh and other places.

The lessons over the years show that not until the Indonesian military is weakened politically can we find a peaceful political settlement for the problem in Aceh and many other problems in Indonesia.

The Forum of Aceh People would like to express our strong objection to this contemplated move by Secretary Rice. We urge the US government to continue the embargo against the Indonesian military and to play a positive role to support peace and democracy in Aceh and Indonesia.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Misdawan Ersa

General Secretary the Forum of Aceh People


The Jakarta Post
Friday, February 11, 2005

Opinion ~ Searching the past for future peace in Aceh
By Benny YP Siahaan, Jakarta

Initially, many quarters have been pessimistic about the prospects of any peace dialog between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) after the collapse of cessation of hostilities agreement (CoHA) in 2003, which was followed by martial law and then a state of civil emergency.

Indeed, after the breakdown of the CoHA the government has successfully undermined GAM's military strength through a massive military operation. Thus it is understandable if the government is not interested in future negotiations since they are on the "winning" side.

Surprisingly, as reported by the media, informal contacts between GAM and the government have been established since November 2004. However, at that time it was not clear in what direction such discreet talks might lead.

The tsunami catastrophe in late December last year has changed the situation. The government and GAM renewed peace talks in Helsinki last week. The government side has sent high-level officials.

If we look from this perspective there has been a change in the nature of the talks, since this is the strongest delegation that Jakarta has ever sent for talks with GAM. The previous delegations were led by a former diplomat, Wiryono S. However, there is little clue about the reason for changing the approach. Nevertheless, this has already raised concern, especially among nationalists, that the new talks will only raise GAM's international stature.

What remains the same from the current talks is that both sides are still using a foreign non-governmental organization as a mediator. Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), led by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, is acting as the mediator in the current talks. So we should learn from past experiences of using an NGO as a mediator.

Many critics would say that the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) itself was partly responsible for the failure of the CoHA, mainly because of its inexperience. This factor can be regarded as the less-credibility factor, a factor generated from the HDC's inexperience and lack of trust by the two sides. The HDC was a relatively new organization when appointed mediator in 2000.

The spoiler factor in the CoHA should not be overlooked. According to Stephen Stedman, spoilers are leaders and parties who believe that peace emerging for negotiations threatens their power, worldview and interests, and use violence to undermine attempts to achieve peace. In the CoHA, GAM and the Indonesian Military (TNI) could be considered spoilers.

Another thing that can be learned from the HDC's experience is that the mediator should posses the ability to bridge the dividing issues. Scholars of ethnic conflict have argued that the success or failure of peace negotiations also depends on how easy the combatants divide the stakes over which they are fighting. Thus, it is argued that the more divisible the stakes over which the combatants are fighting the more likely the war is to end in a negotiated

The failure of the CoHA is also said by many to have been caused by the lack of involvement of civil society throughout the peace process. Indeed, GAM is not the only group that is legitimate in representing the Acehnese.

For GAM, the exclusion or limited involvement of civil society is important since it is afraid other groups from civil society in Aceh would erode GAM's role and recognition during the negotiation process. For the government of Indonesia, the exclusion or limited participation of Aceh civil groups is obvious since the government, especially the military, has a bad image among the Acehnese.

Indeed, there was a big problem of involving civil society, especially in selecting which groups would be eligible to be involved in the negotiation process. In mid-2001 a task force of civil society was formed and consisted mainly of NGO leaders and academics. It was led by Imam Syuja, a widely respected ulema. However, the task force was never effective.

Despite that, however, the involvement of civil society is fairly important in the next phase of negotiations. But there should be a fair mechanism accepted by all elements in Aceh civil society in selecting which groups are eligible to represent the Acehnese since it is impossible to include all groups or organizations.

Thus, the fate of the CMI as a mediator will depend on how well it learns from the experience of the HDC.

The writer is an alumnus of Tsukuba University in Japan.


AFP, February 11, 2005

Rebel salute or Turkish delight?

Tsunami survivors fly the flag in Aceh

Among the donors to tsunami survivors in Indonesia's Aceh, Turkey stands out. Not for bringing money, shelter or food, but for flying their flag -- an emblem that bears an uncanny likeness to the outlawed insignia of separatist rebels.

The red flag bearing a white crescent and star can be seen across the city of Banda Aceh, fluttering on roadsides and emblazoned on T-shirts in what may be a homage to the Turks, but could also be a cheeky salute to the rebels.

Aceh, which bore the brunt of the December 26 disaster, losing hundreds of thousands of people, has been in the throes of a separatist struggle for almost three decades.

Recent talks between leaders of the rebel Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym GAM, and officials from Jakarta have raised hopes of peace, but military efforts to pursue the guerrillas have continued largely unabated.

The action includes the enforcement of a long-running ban on the rebel flag -- identical to the Turkish banner but with the addition of a black stripe, top and bottom.

Americans, Australians, Germans and Japanese have led the parade of foreign aid missions into Aceh but their colours are seldom seen outside the camps of their humanitarian staff. The Turkish emblem, however, is much more prolific.

"Everybody here wants Turkish flags, they can't get enough," said Ilhan Arikhan, a correspondent for Turkey's TRT television spending a week in Aceh to report on the disaster and his country's relief contribution.

The ban on the Free Aceh Movement flag has been strictly enforced since former president Suharto waged a campaign against the rebels, who accuse Jakarta of syphoning off their resource-rich province's wealth.

When the nine year operation came to an end in 1998, authorities said they had greatly weakened the guerrilla movement, but in an act of defiance, outlawed flags were hoisted across Aceh.

The province was subjected to martial law and a new wave of conflict in May 2003, with Jakarta again declaring it had all but broken the rebel movement -- a claim that a renewed bout of emblem-hoisting could call into question.

With spies from both Indonesia's military and the rebels operating across the region, many Acehnese are uneasy talking about the guerrillas and their flag.

"The Turks gave it to me yesterday, it is only for decoration," said Darwin, whose roadside banana stall now sports a giant Turkish flag on its back wall.

"We are neutral, we don't support the GAM side or the Indonesian side. The Turks gave it to us and we are grateful for the help they have offered."

Others were equally circumspect, claiming the banner's popularity was solely due to the Turkish aid effort, which includes a round-the-clock bread bakery and pledges to construct homes for survivors.

"It has similarities to the GAM flag, but it doesn't mean that Aceh people are drawing spirit and strength from it," said Budi, a 40 year-old shop owner who also described himself as "neutral" in the conflict.

Ami Hazrami, a streetside sunglasses vendor, said he had heard rumours that people were displaying the Turkish standard in support of the rebels. "But I don't think it's true," he added.

According to Turkish television man Arikhan, Indonesia's military is a little more convinced of the flag's significance.

"We had some trouble at a military checkpoint. The soldiers were pointing at our Turkish flag and shouting 'What is this?, what is this?'. We showed them our passports and told them we were Turkish and they eventually let us go."


Indonesia Govt, Aceh Rebels To Resume Peace Talks

HELSINKI, Feb. 11 (AP)--The Indonesian government and Aceh rebel leaders will resume peace talks in Finland on Feb. 21, the latest effort to end a 30-year conflict in the breakaway region, the Finnish mediator's office said Friday.

Last month, the two sides met in a secluded manor house outside the Finnish capital for the first time since peace talks collapsed in May 2003. The Indonesian government and Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, had agreed to the talks in the aftermath of the Dec. 26 tsunami.

A magnitude-9.0 quake under the Indian Ocean triggered the tsunami that killed more than 164,000 people in 11 nations - with most of the victims in Aceh province on Sumatra island.

Both sides will return to negotiations Feb. 21 "to explore whether it would be possible to find a comprehensive solution within the framework of special autonomy for Aceh," former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari's office said.

Ahtisaari, who convened the Jan. 27-29 talks, was unavailable for comment.

His office, Crisis Management Initiative, said three days were scheduled for the second round of meetings between the Indonesian government and GAM.

"We are very pleased that they have accepted the invitation and have decided to return," said Matti Kalliokoski, vice chairman of Ahtisaari's office. "We must remember now, though, that much more serious matters will be discussed than in the first round when it was just a question of re-establishing dialogue."

Indonesian Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil, who led the government delegation to Finland, described the meetings as "quite hopeful."

A GAM spokesman confirmed Friday that rebel leaders will return to Finland, adding they were cautiously optimistic about progress.

"There were some points of common interest (in the first round) but we have yet to discuss matters further and deeper," GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah told The Associated Press by telephone from the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

"This conflict has been going on for the last 30 years - it's a long conflict - and we have some hope of getting something out of these meetings."

GAM leaders have been living in Sweden since the Scandinavian country granted them asylum and citizenship in the 1980s. Sweden repeatedly has denied Indonesian requests to arrest the leaders.

Clashes have continued between Indonesian government troops and the rebels since the tsunami disaster, despite a pledge by both sides to uphold a temporary cease-fire during rebuilding in the ravaged region.

Earlier this week, Indonesian troops gunned down 12 suspected separatist rebels in Aceh province, and three villagers were wounded in the crossfire.

A previous truce collapsed in 2003 when the Indonesian military launched an offensive against the insurgents. At the time, Indonesia's Parliament approved a special autonomy package for the resource-rich province that would give its people self-government while keeping them within Indonesia.

The measure was never implemented because of the fighting.

Last month, Ahtisaari said no cease-fire agreement was reached in the first round of talks in Finland.

Ahtisaari, 67, a former peace negotiator in Kosovo, was Finland's president in 1994-2000 and has held several senior U.N. posts.


Agence France Presse
February 12, 2005

Indonesian negotiators upbeat about second round of Aceh peace talks

Indonesian negotiators have expressed hope for a positive outcome in an upcoming second round of peace talks with separatist Aceh rebels in Finland but stressed they would not entertain demands for independence.

The talks will take place at the Koeningstedt estate, outside Helsinki, starting February 21 and will be mediated by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, who chaired a first round of talks at the end of last month.

Jakarta would not compromise nor give in to demands for independence by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) but would stick to its offer of special autonomy for the province, Communications Minister Sofyan Jalil told AFP.

"We hope that the new round of talks will bring a new, dignified and positive solution but it will remain under the framework of (Indonesia's) special autonomy program," said Jalil, who is among four ministers leading the negotiating team.

But he pledged Jakarta would endeavour to seek a "peaceful and comprehensive" conclusion to the 29-year-long conflict and ensure long-term development could be carried out in the tsunami-battered province.

Aceh was the area worst hit by the December 26 tsunamis that slammed into countries on the rim of the Indian Ocean, wiping out many coastal villages and leaving more than 231,000 people dead or missing and some 400,000 homeless in the province alone.

Jakarta and GAM have come under international pressure to end their conflict to facilitate relief operations but fighting continued with more than 200 rebels killed since the disaster, according to the Indonesian army.

The first round of talks at the end of January was the first time the two parties met face-to-face since May 2003, when the government declared martial law and launched a major military offensive in the province after a ceasefire between them broke down.

Finnish mediator Ahtisaari has said the fresh round of talks would give a clear indication where the negotiations were heading.

But Nur Djuli, a member of the GAM delegation, told AFP in Helsinki on Friday that he doubted a permanent solution would be reached immediately.

"(It) is not possible to solve overnight. We must normalize the situation and make it possible for the international community to come freely and without fear to bring humanitarian aid," he said.

GAM has been fighting for independence for the oil-rich province on the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra since 1976, claiming the Indonesian government plunders its resources.

Since the start of the conflict, more than 12,000 people have died.


Military Accused of Killing Villagers in Aceh
February 12, 2005 02:26 AM

Laksamana.Net - A human rights groups says it has received reports of a series of abuses perpetrated by Indonesian security forces in tsunami-ravaged Aceh province.

The UK-based Indonesia Human Rights Campaign (Tapol), in a letter to British Foreign Minister Douglas Alexander, lists a series of incidents in which Indonesian troops allegedly shot dead several civilians and assaulted others.

“These incidents point to a pattern of violence and intimidation being pursued by the Indonesian armed forces in Aceh, causing many deaths and inflicting totally unwarranted tribulations on the Acehnese people at a time of great suffering,” says the letter.

Tapol urged Alexander to pressure the Indonesian government to investigate the violence and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Following is the complete text of the letter written by Tapol founder Carmel Budiardjo. Via the Tapol website.

The following open letter was sent by TAPOL to British Foreign Office Minister, Douglas Alexander, on 9 February 2005:

Douglas Alexander,
Minister of State,
Foreign and Commonwealth Office,
London SW1A 2AH

Dear Mr Alexander,

Human Rights Abuses in Aceh

We have recently received very disturbing reports of a number of assaults on individuals or groups of people by members of the security forces in various parts of Aceh. These incidents have occurred at a time when the people of Aceh are still grappling with the terrifying consequences of the tsunami tragedy that killed over 110,000 people, with many more still missing. The people of Aceh have also suffered colossal material loss and have been forced to become reliant on aid from international aid agencies and foreign governments, including the British Government.

It is all the more deplorable that, at such a time of catastrophe, members of the Indonesian army have yet again resorted to acts of violence.

I wish to draw your attention to the following incidents:

  1. On 28 December, two days after the tsunami struck, seven villagers from the village of Gampung Bale, Lampuuk sub-district were returning home to look for bodies. They encountered some soldiers who ordered them to draw closer. Five did so, while the others stood back, and were able to see what happened. The soldiers asked to see the identity cards of the five villagers, and ordered them to strip. Then shots rang out and the five villagers were killed. Later, other villagers were ordered to bury the bodies.

  2. On 27 January, during military operations in the vicinity of Darussalem village, Peusongan subdistrict, Bireuen district, a number of villagers were returning home after tending their gardens. They encountered some soldiers who opened fire and shot three of the villagers dead. Three days later, on 30 January, the village head asked the security forces for permission to go and recover the bodies for burial, but the commander rejected the request, and is reported to have said: 'Let their bodies rot.'

  3. On 26 January, a well-known Indonesian anti-corruption activist, Farid Faqih was arrested while he was helping with the distribution of aid. It was alleged that he had been stealing relief aid. A few days after his arrest, while still in custody, he was hospitalised because he had sustained injuries to his face inflicted while under interrogation. His lawyer, Daniel Panjaitan, who was shocked to see his client's physical state, has called for his immediate release.

  4. On 2 February, members of the security forces were conducting sweeping operations. According to our source, more than one hundred soldiers were lined up along the Medan-Banda Aceh highway, in the vicinity of crossing 348. A number of civilians who were travelling in private vehicles were ordered to stop and their vehicles were checked. Many personal belongings were confiscated. One of the villagers, Abdurrachman bin Sulaiman, from Sematang Keude Alue Niroh, subdistrict Peureulak Timur, was arrested by Satuan Gabungan Inteligen. He was beaten until he fainted, and was thrown onto the back of a military truck. His present whereabouts are not known.

  5. On the same day, 2 February, a man and his wife who was three and a half months pregnant, set out from their village, Dusun Suka Makmur Alue On-Babah Krung, to go to a clinic in Sungoe Raya to have the wife's condition checked. After 15 minutes, local people stopped them to warn them that the TNI was conducting sweepings and had beaten many people, but the couple decided to continue their journey, because they had identity cards and they felt that the purpose of the journey would secure them safe passage. When they stopped at the home of the wife's father, Tgk Abbas, he decided to accompany his daughter, Nilawaty binti M. Abbas. When they were later ordered to stop at a checkpoint, the father slowed down, and shots rang out. The pregnant woman had been hit in the head, just above the right ear. With the help of local people, she was rushed to the General Hospital at Kota Langsa but died on her father's lap, before reaching the hospital.

  6. On 7 February, two US-based human rights organisations, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First, warned that plans by the security forces in Aceh to register and relocate more than 100,000 people displaced by the tsunami could threaten their right to return to their homes, if they so wish. The organisations fear that the decision of the government to re-settle the people in semi-permanent barracks-style camps could be misused by the military to control the population. According to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, displaced persons should be relocated with full and informed consent, but when being registered the IDPs were not being offered adequate information on alternatives about how or where they will be relocated.

These incidents point to a pattern of violence and intimidation being pursued by the Indonesian armed forces in Aceh, causing many deaths and inflicting totally unwarranted tribulations on the Acehnese people at a time of great suffering.

TAPOL urges you to take up these serious matters with the Indonesian Government, calling for these incidents to be investigated and for all members of the security forces responsible to be brought to justice.

Yours sincerely

Carmel Budiardjo

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