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BANDA ACEH - The new government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono faces a staggering array of problems — rampant corruption, continuing human rights abuses by the military, massive unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, and a judicial and law enforcement system that is little more than a legalised mafia.
Yudhoyono also faces an electorate that expects him to do something about these problems and the possibility of a popular upsurge of anger if he fails to do so or continues with the neoliberal “free market” policies of the previous administration of President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
One of the earliest tests for Yudhoyono's new administration will be how it deals with the prolonged conflict raging in the country's eastern-most province of Aceh.
In July's first-round of the presidential election, Acehnese voted strongly for National Mandate Party candidate Amien Rais because of his well-known criticism of the Megawati government's policy in the province. His close association with the Islamic mass organisation Muhammadiyah — whose leaders have vigorously criticised military operations in Aceh — also helped boost Rais' vote.
Fifty-six per cent of ballots cast in the province were for Rais, far outstripping the vote for Yudhoyono (24%) and Megawati (5.6%). Megawati even received less votes than former Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) chief Wiranto (9.6%) — a candidate whose hostility to Acehnese national self-determination was widely recognised by Acehnese voters.
In the second round of the presidential election, held on September 20, Yudhoyono garnered an overwhelming 80% in Aceh. This vote reflected the Acehnese people's massive disaffection with Megawati who, shortly after becoming president in October 1999, pledged before thousands of Acehnese that she would not allow any more blood to be spilled in Aceh, but since early 2001 has given the TNI a free hand to wage war against the Acehnese independence movement.
Although the Acehnese independence struggle can be traced back to the mid-1970s, primarily in the form of a guerrilla campaign waged by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the trigger for the growth of mass sentiment for independence developed after General Suharto's dictatorship declared Aceh a military operational area (DOM) in 1989. At least 10,000 Acehnese civilians were killed by the TNI over the course of the next nine years.

Long struggle
The DOM was suspended following Suharto's overthrow in 1998. By that time the size of GAM's guerrilla force had grown from 500 fighters in 1989 to some 3000 fighters. The post-Suharto governments of presidents Habibie and Wahid made some half-hearted attempts to redress Suharto-era abuses and address local grievances, but with increased democratic space in Aceh, calls for an independence referendum continued unabated, culminating in 2001 with a rally of 2 million people (almost half the Aceh's population) in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.
Under pressure from the US, the European Union and Japan, in December 2003 Jakarta agreed to sign a peace agreement with GAM, and there was a dramatic decline in violence in the province for two months. Jakarta however claimed that GAM was taking advantage of the cease-fire to expand its armed forces and Jakarta set out to sabotage the peace process.
Claiming that GAM was unwilling to negotiate seriously, on May 19 Megawati put Aceh under martial law and ordered the TNI to launch an “integration operation”, combining economic assistance, “humanitarian” aid and an all-out military offensive to crush GAM. Yudhoyono, then coordinating minister for security, oversaw the offensive.
Citing “improvements” in security, six months later Jakarta replaced the martial-law regime with a “state of civil emergency”. On November 18, Yudhoyono's government will decide whether or not the state of civil emergency is to be extended.
Indonesian government officials admit that the TNI's offensive has not crushed GAM but only forced it to retreat to more remote areas of the province. They also admit that Jakarta's economic and humanitarian assistance operations that were supposed to accompany the TNI's military offensive have been crippled by corruption or have failed to win Acehnese away from supporting the broad independence movement.
Despite trillions of rupiah being poured by Jakarta into the integrated operation, poverty in Aceh has soared. In 2000, the total number of people in Aceh living in poverty was 1.1 million, 26.5% of the province's population. Today, it is estimated to be 1.6 million people, 40% of the population
The poverty and mass unemployment resulting from the TNI's offensive have had other detrimental effects. One particularly telling statistic was revealed by the August 12 Jakarta Kompas daily. Citing the head of the Aceh Department of Health as its source, the paper reported that the average height of newly enrolled school children in Aceh has decreased by eight centimetres over the last six years.
Human rights groups say that since the state of civil emergency came into effect, human rights abuses by the TNI have continued unabated. A report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch on September 27, for example, documents how the military, police and judicial authorities perpetrate horrific persecution, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials in Aceh.
The report concluded that the scale of torture and lack of due legal process in Aceh make it clear that these are the result of deliberate government policy, not the actions of rogue TNI and police personnel or of untrained judicial officials.

Amnesty report
On October 7, Amnesty International released a damning report calling on Yudhoyono to give top priority to ending rights violations in Aceh. The report said that young men, even non-GAM members, were being killed, tortured, ill-treated and arbitrarily detained, while women and girls were raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence.
“There is virtually no aspect of life in the province that has been untouched by grave abuses of human rights”, Ingrid Massage, Asia director of the London-based human rights group, told reporters. Non-government organisations, student groups, women's organisations and the radical left have been calling on Yudhoyono to fulfil his election promise to end the conflict in Aceh.
At a press conference on October 8 the Acehnese Popular Democratic Resistance Front and the Acehnese Democratic Women's Organisation called on Yudhoyono to repeal the state of civil emergency and withdraw all non-Acehnese troops from Aceh. As Yudhoyono delivered his inauguration speech on October 20, simultaneous demonstrations were held across the country by the recently formed United People for Genuine Change alliance calling for an end to the civil emergency and the withdrawal of TNI troops.
The November 2 Jakarta Post quoted Yudhoyono's new security minister, former admiral Widodo Adisutjipto as saying that the military operation to crush GAM should continue. On the same day, he told Kompas that “a resolution to the Aceh question must use two points of reference, that is how to promote the formulation of a special law on Aceh autonomy and how to finish off GAM”.
The November 5 Jakarta Post editorialised that it was urgent to bring peace to Aceh. “In this context”, Indonesia's English language daily said, “it is worth repeating the words of some leading Acehnese ulamas in a discussion in Jakarta on Tuesday. Their message to the government is loud and clear: Abandon the security approach”, adding that: “It is time for the government to consider ceasing military operations, once and for all”.

Posted in Aceh conflict @ 15 November 2004 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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