Military operation causing children trauma and resentment

Kompas – July 19, 2003
School children at school during military operation in Aceh (Liputan 6)
School children at school during military operation in Aceh (Liputan 6)

Jakarta –- The military operation in Aceh to incapacitate Free Aceh Movement (GAM) forces will result in prolonged trauma in children. After they have become adults, their minds will be filled with sadness, revenge and they will tend towards violence.

“The experience during the period of childhood has a big influence on the mentality and behaviour of people when they become adults”, said child psychologist Seto Mulyadi, who is also the chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Children (Komnas Anak), following a National Children’s Day press briefing on Friday.

According to Seto, the mentality and imagination of these children is already filled with thoughts of violence. Because of this, the Komnas Anak team is presently carrying out intensive observations on the condition of Acehnese children and will soon setup a crisis centre in Aceh. To date, humanitarian intervention in the integrated operation [the term used by the government/TNI for the present operation in Aceh] has been limited to fulfilling physical needs only, and this is still at an absolute minimum. “The government has a responsibility to provide psychological  rehabilitation for [these children]”, he said.

Separately, another member of Komnas Anak, Achmad Marzuki, said that they have verified that two children have so far been killed since the military emergency began, aged 12 and 13 respectively. “Both of them were shot dead by the TNI [Indonesian military] in May during a hunt for members of GAM”, said Achmad, who has twice [been to Aceh to] make direct observations in a number of target areas of the military operation.

These two children were from the village of Cot Rabotunong in the Peusangan sub-district of Bireuen regency. Both children were shot early in the day when they were guarding a fish pond owned by an uncle of one of the two children. One of them was only a child construction laborer.

“Mentally, the minds of children, particularly in the rural areas, exhibit a great deal of fear. If they play, their games are mock warfare”, said Marzuki.

Seto said that these kind symptoms always appear in children in areas of armed conflict. If they are asked to draw something spontaneously, they draw pictures of firearms, scenes of gun fights, or other scenes of violence. “Moreover, it is very difficult for them to laugh out loud”, he said.

Both Seto and Marzuki said that this experience of violence will leave a strong imprint in the minds of children which will be carried through to adulthood.

“The majority of young members of GAM at the moment are those who’s families fell victim [to the violence] during DOM (Military Operation Zone)(1). They admit to wanting revenge and to get back [at those who hurt them]”, said Marzuki.

Not garnering sympathy

Meanwhile, the chairperson of the [recently formed] Commission to Form a United Opposition Party (KPPO), Dita Indah Sari, expressed the view that the military operation was clear evidence that the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice-president Hamzah Haz will never be able to win the sympathy of the Acehnese people.

“The government will never be able to convince the people of Aceh to remain united [with Indonesia]”, said Dita,  accompanied by the chairperson (sic) of the People’s Democratic Party, Yusuf Lakaseng(2). If GAM wishes to grow, though its strategy of guerrilla [warfare], this will not be possible if they cannot obtain the sympathy and support and increase the number of volunteers which join their [armed] struggle.

Dita likewise said that the inability of the Acehnese people to hold government positions which has forced TNI [officers] to replace district heads is also evidence of the inability of the government to win the hearts and minds of the Acehnese people(3). (B14/OSD)


1. Between 1989 to 1998, Aceh was designated a special military operations area.

2. Lakaseng is in fact the head of the military affairs department of the PRD]

3. Particularly at the sub-district and village level, in many areas of Aceh the government administration has partly or wholly ceased to function as a result of the conflict or because local Acehnese people have resigned citing pressure from GAM and/or TNI.

[Translated by James Balowski.]