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Scotsman: Strategy of provocation that keeps Aceh's war in
public eye
 Paul Barber
 May 19, 2001 07:11 PDT 
Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Scotsman Online [UK]
May 17, 2001

Strategy of provocation that keeps Aceh=E2=80=99s war in public eye

Paul Dillon In Aceh=20

Photo: Rebels of the Free Aceh Movement train at a secret location. The=
force=20
has captured a town and even set up a parallel administration.

ILIAS PASE, commander of the Free Aceh Movement, need look no further than=
=20
the living-room of his jungle hideout to find the incentive to engage the=20
overwhelming superiority of the Indonesian military.=20

A chubby 18-month-old girl toddles over to examine Commander Pase=E2=80=99s
visitors,=20
babbling and pointing at a muddy yard teeming with ducks and chickens, where=
=20
a group of young men lounge with a variety of automatic weapons. "This child=
=20
is a TNI baby," he says, using the acronym for the Indonesian army. "Her=20
mother was raped by three soldiers. The woman=E2=80=99s husband was killed=
by the=20
soldiers, so she lives here with her daughter. That is why we want our=20
children to live in a free, independent Aceh where they will not be raped or=
=20
killed by colonialist Javanese soldiers."=20

It is a rare unguarded moment during hours of interviews with the ruthless,=
=20
35-year-old former pasentren (religious school) teacher. Now military=20
commander of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in arguably the most dangerous=20
district of the province, and facing a significant portion of the=20
government=E2=80=99s 32,000-man commitment to the region, Cdr Pase=E2=80=99s=
guard is
up at=20
all times.=20

Aceh is a resource-rich, strategically important parcel of land at the=20
northern entrance to the Strait of Malacca, right on the tip of the=20
2,000-mile long Indonesian archipelago. In one shape or another the GAM has=
=20
fought the central government there for more than a quarter century, from=20
bases tucked away in nooks and crannies - like Cdr Pase=E2=80=99s camp, two=
hours=20
from ExxonMobil=E2=80=99s gas fields outside Lhokseumawe, in northern Aceh.=
As any=20
school child here will tell you, however, the Acehnese trace their pedigree=
=20
as resistance fighters back to the late 19th century, when they fought the=
=20
Dutch for more than 40 years. They battled against the Japanese from the=20
moment it became clear their erstwhile emancipators were more interested in=
=20
slave labour than freedom.=20

Their beef with the Javanese, who make up the overwhelming majority of the=
=20
Indonesia=E2=80=99s 210 million people, is complicated by the fact that the
Acehnese=20
willingly joined the new country of Indonesia shortly after the Second World=
=20
War. Since then, however, they have seen few of the benefits of belonging to=
=20
the fourth most populous nation on earth and the world=E2=80=99s largest=
Muslim=20
country. While fortunes have been built on Aceh=E2=80=99s timber, mineral an=
d
natural=20
gas resources, most of the royalties have ended up in the hands of the=20
Jakarta =C3=A9lite and a few well-connected local businessmen.=20

Recent history is marked by the trauma of an intense nine-year military=20
operation that ended in 1998. The period was marked by numerous human rights=
=20
abuses committed by the TNI and the deaths or disappearances of more than=20
6,000 people. It served to galvanise the population around the rebel force.=
=20
At times, that support has waned, Cdr Pase admits, but the GAM=E2=80=99s=
tactics=20

today suggest that the force fully appreciates the need to maintain the=20
hearts and minds of war-weary villagers.=20

The lack of professionalism of the army and police forces in Aceh is the=20
Indonesian achilles heel that the GAM regularly exploits. The rebels keep=
the=20
pro-independence fires burning, Cdr Pase says, by goading the soldiers and=
=20
police into committing atrocities that are then broadcast abroad. "We know=
=20
from experience how the security apparatus will respond," he says. "They=
will=20
kill civilians and burn their homes. This makes the people more loyal to the=
=20
GAM. And the people in Jakarta and outside can see that we are serious about=
=20
our struggle. This is part of guerrilla strategy."=20

With this in mind, the GAM executed its brazen and largely unprecedented=20
action two months ago, when a sizeable force (Cdr Pase is circumspect, but=
=20
witnesses claim up to 80 rebels were involved) swept into the town of Idi in=
=20
northern Aceh, driving the police=E2=80=99s =C3=A9lite Mobile Brigade=
(BriMob) from its=20
barracks and taking the town. Twelve hours later, hundreds of BriMob=20
reinforcements rolled into Idi and the GAM melted away. What ensued was a=20
day-long orgy of looting and burning by the police. At least seven residents=
=20
were officially confirmed to have been killed, but witnesses believe the=20
number may have been at least twice that high.=20

Every shop in Idi=E2=80=99s business district appears to have been looted;=
only the=20
solid concrete construction has prevented the entire area from being razed,=
=20
and dozens of homes in the picturesque port have been burned to the ground.=
=20
"They came into Idi and destroyed everything," says Nasruddin, a teacher.=
"We=20
have so many refugees here now it is hard to feed them all. Sometimes, for=
=20
several days, only the children will eat."=20

Today, "security" in Idi is provided by swaggering groups of BriMob=20
policemen, dressed in flourescent pink tracksuits and mirrored shades, who=
=20
patrol the lanes and alleys around their base when they are not at the=20
brothel they have set up opposite one police post.=20

"It is not a good strategy to kill villagers, but it is a good strategy to=
=20
keep the war going," says Cdr Pase. "We plan to have more big operations=
like=20
this when the time is right."=20

Attempts have been made over the past two years to bridge the gap between=20
Jakarta and the Acehnese. Direct talks between the GAM and TNI held in the=
=20
capital, Banda Aceh, and in Geneva under the auspices of a Swiss=
organisation=20
have failed to produce a lasting peace. Indeed, the so-called "humanitarian=
=20
pause" announced last summer failed miserably.=20

Despite an agreed cease-fire in three regencies in late February, March saw=
=20
close to 300 people, the majority of them civilians, killed. "I cannot=20
remember it being worse," one former political prisoner says. "I believe a=
=20
deal can be made that can bring peace to Aceh but no-one believes Jakarta=
can=20
enforce its will on the army and police."=20

A so-called "special autonomy" package for Aceh proposes sweeping new powers=
=20
for the Acehnese, including the lion=E2=80=99s share of the revenues from it=
s
natural=20
resources and a say in where TNI will be deployed. However, the government=
of=20

the discredited "reform" president, Abdurrahman Wahid, is hopelessly mired
in=20
political scandal. In what western analysts see as an 11th hour attempt to=
=20
curry favour with the country=E2=80=99s powerful military lobby, Mr Wahid la=
st
month=20
authorised a so-called limited military action in Aceh and the deployment of=
=20
crack troops trained by the country=E2=80=99s feared special forces unit,=
known as=20
Kopassus.=20

Cdr Pase says the GAM is ready to send the troops home "in many bags" but=
the=20
rebel=E2=80=99s efforts are not restricted to military operations. A six-mon=
th
arson=20
campaign in 1999 targeting government offices effectively destroyed=20
Indonesia=E2=80=99s ability to deliver services in many areas.=20

Today, all basic local government services, from weddings and funerals to=20
land sales, education and civil and criminal legal matters in hundreds of=20
towns and villages are controlled by the GAM, boasts Jamaluddin Ali, one of=
=20
the architects of the plan. "We have established a parallel Acehnese=20
government," he says, chain-smoking in a hut while half a dozen young men=20
clean their weapons before a patrol. "When independence comes, we will be=20
ready to take control."=20

**************************************************
Paul Barber
TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign,
25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ
Tel/Fax: 01420 80153
Email: plov-@gn.apc.org
Internet: www.gn.apc.org/tapol=20
Defending victims of oppression in Indonesia and=20
East Timor, 1973-2000
**************************************************
	
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