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At the end of April the government of Megawati Sukarnoputri delivered an ultimatum to the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) guerrillas: end the armed resistance and give up the demand for independence or face all-out war. In the last few weeks, tens of thousands of Indonesian troops have been readied to go to Aceh.
While the December cease-fire Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) between the TNI and GAM, brokered by the Swiss-based Henri Dunant Centre, did reduce the violence, the cease-fire is now all but destroyed by Jakarta&Mac226;s determination to smash the movement for independence.
This is a very risky and ultimately futile move by the Megawati Sukarnoputri government. It was the last two decades of militarisation under Suharto that resulted in so many Acehnese wanting to escape from Indonesia.
Since the birth of the republic of Indonesia in 1945, in which the Acehnese played a critical role, the desire for independence has been strong. Suharto turned Aceh into a military operations zone (known as DOM) between 1989-1998 allowing the military and Kopassus special forces free rein to kill, terrorise and displace tens of thousands.
The official death toll during DOM is 1000. However, Acehnese democratic rights organisations estimate that more than 7000 people have been killed since 1991 and an estimated 39,000 people have disappeared since the 1970s.
After Suharto was ousted, DOM was officially lifted, but the military remained using the same methods of persuasion. Former president Abdurrahman Wahid, after briefly contemplating a referendum for Aceh, then announced a limited operations status.
President Megawati has given more rein to the TNI generals to continue their terror campaign.
The Indonesian government&Mac226;s strategy has clearly backfired. A combination of the militarisation and the sham special autonomy status has ensured growing support for independence.
A new urban-based civil democratic movement, which grew out of the struggle to get rid of Suharto, has increased in strength. This movement mobilised some 2 million Acehnese 50% of the population in December 1999 to demand a referendum. Leaders of the civil democratic movement, including Muhammad Nazar of SIRA (Aceh Referendum Information Centre), Kautsar and Reihan of FPDRA (Acehnese People&Mac226;s Democratic Resistance Front) have spent much time in prison for their campaign for democracy.
Aceh is a resource rich area with one of the world&Mac226;s largest oil and gas reserves, as well as having substantial gold and timber resources. In addition to being super-exploited by US and Japanese multi-nationals, the Jakarta-based political and business elite drain resources from Aceh. Exxon-Mobil and the Japanese consortium JILCO operates the largest refinery and are known to run protection rackets with the TNI against attacks by GAM.
In 2001, some 11% of Indonesia&Mac226;s national budget came from Aceh&Mac226;s natural resources with a miniscule 0.035% of resource revenue remaining in Aceh. The autonomy laws entitle Aceh to 70% of the state&Mac226;s oil and gas revenue, but endemic corruption gets in the way of this happening.
According to Tapol, the UK-based Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, the Indonesian army and police have profited handsomely from the conflict in Aceh: last year, Jakarta allocated an additional US$115 million to each. They are also heavily involved in a wide range of illegal activities including imposing illegal taxes, extortion, trafficking in women, prostitution, gambling, illegal logging, fishing and smuggling luxury goods into the country.
If the people of Aceh are ever to live in peace, the military and police must leave the war-torn province. Only negotiations between GAM, the civil democratic movement and the Indonesian government will avoid more bloodshed. The lessons of East Timor have to be learnt.
To this end we call on the Australian government to:
* Urge the Indonesian government to pull back from all-out war in Aceh, withdraw the troops and institute real negotiations and dialogue with the full spectrum of Acehnese political groups;
* End all military and security ties with Indonesia, including abandoning plans to resume ties with the discredited Kopassus, and;
* Initiate a special humanitarian assistance program directed to the people of Aceh.
Initiated by Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific (ASAP)
Endorsed by: Dr Damien Kingsbury; John van Gaalen; Denise Leith; Watze Kamstra (Holland); Ruth Thompson; Brendan Ross; Munawarliza Zain (Reyza), Acheh Center, USA; Teuku Hadi (Germany); Natalie Pauwels (Researcher, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium); Igor O&Mac226;Neil (Mineral Policy Institute); S.L.Davies (Mt. Helena, WA); Eko Waluyo; Mary Bull (Mourning Mothers Anti-War Affinity Group); Kathryn Fairfax (Sydney, Australia); Leesa Wheelahan, (Southern Cross University, Lismore); Craig Roussac; Mustafa Qadri; Sini Cedercreutz (Brussells); Dr Helen Jarvis (Phom Penh, Cambodia); Dr Jeremy Smith (University of Ballarat); Leanne Kirk; Dr Anthony Burke (University of Adelaide); Malcolm Deans (Dunedin, New Zealand); Dr Anthony Burke (University of Adelaide); Tasmanian Division of the NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union; Dave Abbott (NTEU, Tasmania); Muhammad Taufik Abda (Executive Director of Center for the Study and Advocacy of the Region (CèSAR) )