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Aceh: Martial Law Ends But Troops Remain

Aceh: Martial Law Ends But Troops Remain

Pip Hinman
Green Left Weekly

Jakarta's decision to lift martial law in Aceh, in favour of an ''emergency status'', won't change the lives of ordinary Acehnese for the better, according to a leader of the Acehnese community in Australia. Nurdin, who was once imprisoned and tortured by the Indonesian army, said that Jakarta's troops must be forced out of Aceh.

On the May 19 anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Aceh, Nurdin told Green Left Weekly that President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian government is sending up two more battalions to Aceh, which is on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.

“Megawati's announcement [that martial law would be lifted at midnight on May 18] is really an admission of defeat. She said she would crush the Acehnese rebels in three months, but she hasn't done it in 12”, Nurdin said.

“With the first round of the presidential elections due in July, she's keen to make it look like the war's over. In fact, it's not. She's spent some A$6.2 million fighting Free Aceh Movement (GAM) over the last year, sent more than 50,000 troops in and still the rebels have not been crushed, because Aceh's population of some 4 million want their freedom.”

The Indonesian military claims to have killed 2000 GAM rebels, arrested another 2100 and forced about 1300 to surrender over the past year — more than the military's own estimate of GAM's strength. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Tapol, report that many of those killed were civilians.

Martial law was imposed on May 19, 2003, following the collapse of talks between the Indonesian government and GAM. Rebel negotiators were arrested and Jakarta sent troops to crush the estimated 5000 rebels in the largest Indonesian military operation since the invasion and occupation of East Timor in 1975.

The government's shut-down of the province to reporters and human rights groups has kept this dirty war largely hidden from the world. But on May 12, Amnesty International reported that “nearly all aspects of the lives of ordinary citizens are adversely affected by the military emergency. People are terrorised by the numerous killings and the ever-present threat of arrest, torture and ill-treatment.”

The US-based Acheh Center reported on May 6 that Indonesia's armed forces top commander General Endriartono had admitted that soldiers had committed human rights violations against civilians, including rape and torture, and that more than 400 cases had been brought before military courts. Some prisoners, including Mohammad Nazar, a leader of the Aceh Referendum Information Centre (SIRA), have been moved to prisons in other parts of Indonesia.

Nurdin told GLW that the Acehnese people have little hope that a new president, due to be elected on July 5, will end the war in Aceh. He said that neither the Golkar candidate, former general Wiranto, nor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, another former general and leader of the Democrat party, were likely to withdraw the troops and start talks with GAM and Aceh's democratic organisations.

“[Wiranto and Yudhoyono] are reliant on the Indonesian military to back them and the military make a lot of money from corruption in Aceh”, Nurdin explained. Not only that, the province is rich in gas and oil, and the government's new autonomy law still allows Jakarta to appropriate substantial revenue from the sale of Aceh's natural resources.

From Green Left Weekly, May 26, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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