INDONESIA: Military Offensive Halts Aid
- INDONESIA: Military Offensive on in Tsunami-Hit Aceh -
January 3, 2005
BANGKOK, Jan 3 (IPS) - While volunteers, relief
workers and families are busy collecting and searching
for bodies in Indonesia's tsunami-stricken Aceh
province, Indonesian soldiers are continuing their
offensive against separatist rebels, critics say.
This, say international human rights groups, is
hindering the delivery of badly needed humanitarian
aid to survivors of the world's worst natural disaster
in 40 years.
The groups are also urging the Indonesian government
not to let politics override the emergency needs of
the Acehnese people.
Although some reports say that a de facto ceasefire
has been in place between the military and separatist
rebels since the Dec. 26 disaster, there are no signs
yet that the state of civil emergency, which was
imposed on the province in 2004 to quell the
separatist movement, will be lifted.
`'Delays by the Indonesian government in allowing
international access to Aceh may have needlessly cost
precious lives. International and Indonesian
organisations must have unrestricted access to Aceh,''
said the U.S.-based Non-Violence International in a
As many as 100,000 people may have been killed in the
Indonesian provinces of Aceh and elsewhere in North
Sumatra as a result of the earthquake and tsunami that
struck the region. The Indonesian government initially
kept the international community at bay as it
apparently debated whether to open Aceh up to
Aceh has been almost entirely closed to any
international presence due to military operations
there against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has
been fighting for independence since 1976. More than
10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed
The government put the province under martial law on
May 19, 2003 before reducing this to a state of civil
emergency one year later.
`'Under the civil emergency, the Indonesian military
continue to play a leading role and there has been no
cutback in the level of military operations in most of
the territory,'' said Paul Barber of the Britain-based
human rights group Tapol.
`'Lifting the civil emergency would require the
declaration of a presidential decree but Indonesia's
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has shown no
inclination to move in this direction,'' he added.
On Sunday Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s emergency relief
coordinator, told reporters that relief efforts after
the Asian tsunami disaster was falling behind in
Indonesia. `'We're able to reach out in all of the
affected countries except in (Indonesia's) Sumatra and
Aceh at the moment. That is where we are behind,'' he
All eyes are on whether the government can or will
make use of the opportunity for reconciliation
provided by the Dec. 26 disaster to open up Aceh to
Indonesians and outsiders, and how its relief efforts
continue will play a key factor in this.
Many also concede that the military is the institution
with the best reach and logistics to help out in times
At the same time, news reports from Jakarta said
hundreds of Indonesian military troops, known by their
Indonesian acronym TNI, were raiding GAM hideouts
across East and North Aceh, which had been devastated
by the tsunami.
Also, 15,000 extra troops are being rushed to Aceh, on
top of the 40,000 already there, to help with
Lt Col D J Nachrowi told `The Jakarta Post' on
Thursday that the calamity should not be seen as a way
for the military to suspend security operations
`'We are now carrying out two duties: humanitarian
work and the security operation,'' he told the daily.
`'The raids to quell the secessionist movement in Aceh
will continue unless the president issues a decree to
lift the civil emergency and assign us to merely play
a humanitarian role in Aceh.''
Nachrowi's comments infuriated Nasruddin Abubakar, the
president of Sentral Informasi Referendum Aceh (SIRA).
`'The government is still maintaining the civil
emergency and continuing on with military operations
in Aceh despite the fact that the death toll now is
close to 100,000. Is the government not yet satisfied
with the killing?'' he asked in a phone interview with
IPS. `'Are Acehnese not citizens of Indonesia?''
Nasruddin said his group had received news from
volunteers working in the province's devastated
capital Banda Aceh that the military was interrogating
survivors making their way to relief centres,
suspecting them of being GAM members.
`'We want to draw everyone's attention to the need to
save the Acehnese from death,'' he pleaded.
The New York-based East Timor Action Network (ETAN)
urged aid organisations and agencies to work as
closely as possible with local civil society groups
and to resist Indonesian government and military
attempts to keep non-governmental local groups out of
`'The high level of corruption in Indonesia,
especially in Aceh, and the great distrust of Aceh's
(provincial) government make it crucial that aid
groups be allowed to distribute urgently needed food,
medical supplies, and other assistance outside of
government channels, distributing aid directly and
through local NGOs,'' said ETAN's Karen Orenstein.
Tapol's Barber warned that natural disaster such as
that which struck Aceh a week ago will only serve to
reinforce the military's role under the cover of
becoming involved in humanitarian activities.
`'Following the imposition of martial law in May 2003,
local NGOs fled from Aceh because of intimidation and
the threat of violence against their activists,'' said
`'Even now, Acehnese activists based in Jakarta and
neighbouring Malaysia know that they would be taking
great risks if they return to their homeland to help
provide succour for the stricken population,'' he
According to Stratfor Global Intelligence, a security
analysis website, the tsunami disaster could prove to
be a boon to Jakarta in its campaign against GAM.
`'(President) Yudhoyono will send more troops into the
province to rebuild and clean up...If GAM does not
agree to settle the problem peacefully, Yudhoyono will
have more troops on hand to clean them out,'' wrote
the analysts at Stratfor. (END/2005)
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