Emergency Continues To Grip Aceh


Since July a political issue constantly on the front pages in Jakarta has been the likelihood that a civil or military emergency/martial law will be declared in Aceh. The idea was first floated by retired Lt. General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs and soon became a major topic for the media.

However, all the talk about declaring a state of emergency in Aceh is beside the point because the Acehnese have been living in a state of emergency for decades. With the exception of a short interval of relative peace in 1999 and 2000, most parts of Aceh can be described as war zones. The death toll since the beginning of the year has risen to around fifteen people a day, most of them civilians. Clashes between the TNI (Indonesian armed forces) and/or POLRI (Indonesian Police) on the one hand and GAM (Free Aceh Movement) on the other are virtually daily occurrences.

The government’s move to raise the issue of declaring an emergency in Aceh is more to do with the political situation in Jakarta where Cilangkap, the TNI headquarters, is increasingly calling the shots. The military leaders want to grab even more power than they already have. At the beginning of August, Major-General Djali Yusuf, the military commander of Iskandar Muda, the military command of Aceh, made a report to President Megawati, in which he spoke of the continuing violence in the region and accused GAM of great brutality. He also announced the creation of a special unit, Satgas Rajawali (Rajawali Special Unit), a combat unit trained and equipped for counter-insurgency and anti-guerrilla warfare. The Rajawali units include troops from the army (Kopassus), the navy (Marines), the air force (Paskhasau) and Kostrad, the army’s strategic corps.

In response, President Megawati instructed Major-General Djali Yusuf to ‘act decisively’ against all those involved in acts of violence. From that moment on, all the focus of attention was about declaring an emergency situation in Aceh.

DOM and the emergency

Ever since the birth of the Indonesian Republic in 1945, the use of violence by Indonesian troops has been a regular feature.. The resurgence of rebel movements such as the Darul Islam and the RMS (South Maluku Republic) in the fifties was met by Jakarta with swift military action, always accompanied by great brutality.

After the resurgence of GAM in the late eighties, the dictator Suharto turned Aceh into a DOM (Daerah Operasi Militer or military operations zone), which gave the military free rein to do whatever they thought fit. In practice this meant special forces, notably Kopassus, the red berets combat unit, using their intelligence agents to extract information from villagers. According to official figures, the death toll during DOM, from 1989 till 1998, was at least one thousand; a similar number disappeared and thousands were left physically disabled, widowed or orphaned. After the fall of Suharto, DOM was lifted but in 2000 the military started to apply the same violent methods again. DOM had again become the reality though no one was calling it that.

During the Wahid presidency several new constructions were initiated. A special autonomy law which renamed Aceh as NAD (Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam) was enacted by parliament but it has made little difference on the ground. In 2001 two presidential instructions or Inpres (Instruksi Presiden) were issued to deal ‘comprehensively’ with the situation in Aceh but in practice only the security measures as prescribed by TNI/Polri were implemented. After becoming president in July last year, Megawati issued yet another Inpres this year which, like its predecessors, claims to be aimed at seeking a ‘comprehensive’ solution but all that has happened is that violence has increased significantly since the beginning of the year. The Inpres was due to expire on 31 July and this has been used as the justification by the TNI to press for a stronger military solution.

It is more than obvious that the military wants something more than just an Inpres. Firstly ,they want more troops in Aceh, and secondly, with their experiences in East Timor still fresh in their minds, they want to be given a legal umbrella that would protect them from facing charges of gross human rights abuses or crimes against humanity.

Despite the successes of the recent military campaign in Aceh, GAM guerrilla units are still present in large numbers in the countryside. Members of the security forces openly admit that it is very difficult to distinguish GAM people from the local population, thereby giving credence to the popularity of GAM among the population. The call for an increase in the number of troops is the army’s

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