Military operation in Aceh: A defeat for democracy

SAP – October 6, 2003
Protester releases doves at rally for peace in Aceh (elsam)
Protester releases doves at rally for peace in Aceh (elsam)
  • Reject the politics of war
  • Counter the plan to extend the military operation in Aceh and legal and illegal military operations in Papua

The resolution of the political conflict in Aceh and West Papua by military means, whether it be through a legally sanctioned military operation or illegally, has failed to comprehensively resolve the conflict in these two regions. Rather, the military solution has given birth to new conflicts of a far higher intensity.

The decision to apply a military emergency to resolve the political conflict in Aceh has provided a huge opportunity for the military to restore its position on the national political stage and this represents a huge threat to democracy in Indonesia. It is extremely difficult for us to agree with the assessment that the military emergency – which has been in place for five months minus 13 days – has been successful if it is measured in terms of winning the hearts and minds of the people. If we begin from the realisation that the oppression during the period of the Military Operational Zone (1989-1998), it was this which gave rise to the sentiment of nationalism itself in the minds of the Acehnese people, so it is certain that a military operation is not the solution.

There have been many counter productive and contradictory issues in the aims of the operation to win the hearts and minds of the people which have been perpetrated and have occurred during the military operation. For example, the arrests of social figures such as Iman Suja [a former Free Aceh Movement negotiator who has been charged with treason] and a lecturer from the Ar Raniry State Institute for Islamic Studies, the closing off of access to national and international public monitoring, mass graves which should be a guide in the search for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, which have instead become a propaganda tool for the political interests of the military, rapes by TNI [Indonesian armed forces] soldiers and so forth.

Counting from the time the military emergency came into force [on May 19] until now, 800 houses and schools have been burnt down and 342 civilians have died, 94 civilians have been wounded and 101 people have disappeared or been abducted. Around 120 children in the Pidie regency [in North Aceh] have suffered physical disabilities as a consequence of the armed conflict over the last three years. There have been other excesses, the number of widows and orphaned children is growing, and this does not include 222 village heads who have been murdered. There are still many other people who have died as a result of the military emergency who it is claimed were members of GAM or its sympathisers. As well as the civilians casualties journalists have also become victims, either physically or through limiting press coverage.

The military emergency has not just resulted in casualties among the Acehnese people – either those who are involved with GAM or ordinary civilians – but it has also resulted in the deaths of ordinary soldiers, as many as 39 TNI members have died and 42 others wounded, along with 14 police officers killed and 61 others wounded.

The impact of the military emergency has also flowed through to the economic sector in the form of reducing the people’s purchasing power, prices have skyrocketed because of the high cost of transpiration of basic foods, drastically increasing the levels of unemployment. People’s crops have been abandoned (as a result of being made refugees) and there has been a loss of productive time as a consequence of night time curfews and sweeps by the military which has resulted in a drastic increase in poverty.

Since the prolonged armed conflict in Aceh, it has been calculated that the number of poor which in 2001 was as many as 1.2 million people (30.43 per cent) and increased to 1.4 million in 2002 (33.43 per cent), has increased in 2003 to 1.6 million, 40 per cent of a total population in Aceh of 4.1 million. Added to this is the number of children who have been abandoned which has reached 150,000. In fact, before the conflict poverty levels were only around 26.5 per cent or 1.1 million people. There have been three regions which have experienced the greatest increases in poverty: North Aceh, with as many as 413,935 people, 39.82 per cent of the provinces population, East Aceh with 286,797 people (42.34 per cent) and Pidie with 206,179 people or 40.33 percent.

Another impact which has been felt most strongly is the reduction in the quality of education as a result of the burning down of education facilities, so that children must study under emergency tents, facilities which are far from adequate.

The assessment in military circles is different, that the military operation has been able to reduce GAM’s forces by more than 50 per cent and that it has emboldened the people to hold loyalty rallies in support of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).

Rallies by hundreds of thousands of people who made an oath of locality to NKRI and the national independence day celebrations which were merrier than previous years has legitimised the claims by the regional military command (PDMD) of progress in the military operation which has begun to bring peace to the people of Aceh. The objectivity of the above political reality is extremely doubtful, because these things occurred at a time of repressive threats against the people so that there was no other choice for the Acehnese people to protect themselves from becoming targets of repression except to go along with the PDMD’s agenda. Moreover, the falsehood of the PDMD’S claims on the conducive situation in Aceh became increasingly obvious after we heard that 232 Acehnese citizens had sought political asylum in Malaysia on the grounds that it is not safe for them to live in Aceh.

In the lead up to the end of the period of the six month military emergency in Aceh, the various claims of success or objective failures has made the government plan for three options following the military operation: the option of extending the military operation, reducing the status of the military emergency to a civilian emergency or applying a limited military emergency (only in areas which are still considered to be hot spots). In fact there is no substantial difference between these three options where its legal basis is still the same, that is Law Number 23/1959 [on a state of emergency]. What differentiates them is only who holds the authority, if it is a civil emergency the governor holds the highest authority, while under a limited military emergency it is the same as the current military emergency.

The implementation of a civil emergency in the Maluku islands [where there has been a long running regional conflict] and the implementation of the military emergency in Aceh, if viewed in their essence can be said to be the same, such as limitations on press coverage, prohibitions against visits to the area by foreigners and prohibitions against the exit and entry of people between regions and from outside of Maluku and Aceh.

From the point of view of the mobilisation of troops it can also be said to be the same, although in terms of numbers it is different and this is also influenced by the nature of the different conflicts. In the civil emergency in Maluku, there were also many restraints on the people expressing their political opinions, this was done by the civil emergency authorities. Not to mention the many arrests which have occurred outside of the legal procedures which are in force. In general terms the implementation of the civilian emergency in Maluku has also created many humanitarian problems and violations against human rights.

Papua riot responsibility of the political elite

The recent riots which occurred in Papua which were triggered by the policy of separating Papua into three provinces has clearly concerned all of us, not just because there were innocent civilian casualties from the two sides that clashed but precisely because this riot will legitimise the return of a military operation in Papua.

It is clear that the rioting which occurred in Papua was a planned provocation by the political elite, both in Jakarta and Papua, because the division of Papua is not the desire of the Papuan people. The legislation of Law Number 45/1999 [on the creation of two new provinces of West and Central Papua] which provides the legal justification for the separation was not a result of a majority proposal or the democratic views of the Papuan people. It is clear that application of the policy to divide Papua does not represent the needs or wishes of the people of Papua and moreover it has destabilised the peace of the Papuan people. Clearly it is a betrayal of the essence of the aim of providing special autonomy to the people of Papua.

From the start, the cause of the Papua conflict was no different, that is the people’s demands to free themselves, their natural resources and the region from state repression and exploitation which has ignored them in the interests of capitalism. The people of Papua have long felt that their right to justice has been taken away, their humanity has been trampled on. What they must be given is justice though the trial of all perpetrators of crimes against humanity, given the right to freely express their political demands, given the right to prosperity though the allocation of authority to regulate their natural resources though a democratic mechanism.

To date, special autonomy for the Papuan people has been no more than political lip service (a political bribe) by past central governments, no democratic rights have been given to the Papuan people. Moreover, state political repression carried out by the TNI/police continues either in legal an illegal forms. Because if the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri was consistent in giving autonomy the Papuan people, whether or not the province of Papua should be divided and any other issues which are desired by the Papuan people are the democratic right of the Papuan people.

The bloody conflict in Papua is a consequence of the declaration of the province of Central Irian Jaya [West Papua] and is an example for us were the regime does not respect and moreover negates the democratic demands of the Papuan people for dialogue. The specter of the division continues to roam about in Papua. In Timika, the people have succeeded in resisting the political specter of Jakarta (who’s name is division), although five people died and 125 were wounded and in the end it has caused the specter of division to be cast away from Timika (the prospective province of Central Irian Jaya). But the reality is that the specter of division continues to haunt the Papuan people, a specter which is ready to sow conflict and harvest the lives of the civilian people of Papua. In Manokwari, the formation of the province of West Irian Jaya is still being campaigned for by the regime, in other words the potential for bloody conflict continues to be created by the regime though their bureaucratic and military accomplices there. This potential has become like a snake in the grass which over time will grow, the plan to divide the province has become a time bomb for the emergence of a horizontal conflict in Papua.

The need to resolve the Aceh-Papua conflicts

The military operation in Aceh, which will certainly fail to win the hearts and minds of the Acehnese people, and the separation of Papua which is not the wish or desire of the Papuan people and which has resulted instead in rioting which has sacrificed innocent civilians, is proof of the inability and the failure of the Megawati government and the parliament to resolve the national crisis (disintegration) in manner which is civilized and with respect for humanity.

It needs to be realised that from the beginning the demands for independence by the people of Aceh and Papua emerged as a result of the disappointment and psychological trauma of the Acehnese and Papuans. It is clear that the military emergency in Aceh and a legal or illegal military operation in Papua represents a failure to win the hearts and minds of the people of Aceh and Papua, because the military operation will certainly impact on the accumulation of the prolonged disappointment and psychological trauma, it is civilians who will be the principal victims and who will most suffer as a consequence of these military operations.

Aceh Papua Solidarity therefore makes the following demands:

1. We urge that the military emergency in Aceh be revoked immediately;
2. We reject all of the efforts of the military operation in Aceh to be legitimised by a legal umbrella (civil emergency or limited military emergency) which in essence is no different from the military operation which is presently being implemented out in Aceh;
3. We urge the establishment of a dialog between the Indonesian government and all components of the Acehnese people, including GAM, to discuss the future and find a resolution to the Aceh conflict and other political issues including the 2004 general elections;
4. We condemn in the strongest terms the killing of the North Aceh chairperson the Reform Star Party by the mobile police;
5. We explicitly reject the separation of the province of Papua and call for the immediate formation of a Papuan People’s Council as a political institution which represents all components of the Papuan people, and the opening of the broadest possible dialogue with the people of Papua;
6. We reject the formation of 755 Military Command in Marauke and the continuation of military exercises or war games by the Trikora regional military command in West Biak which has only brought fear to the people in the area.

Aceh-Papua Solidarity
October 6, 2003, Jakarta

Aceh-Papua Solidarity (SAP

1. Solidarity Movement for the People of Aceh (Solidaritas Gerakan Rakyat untuk Aceh, SEGERA)
2. National Solidarity for Papua (Solidaritas Nasional untuk Papua, SNUP)
3. Papuan Student Alliance (Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua, AMP)
4. Koteka Social Consultative Assembly (Dewan Musawarah Masyarakat Koteka, DEMMAK)
5. Papuan National Student Front (Front Nasional Mahasiswa Papua, FNMP)
6. Acehnese Peoples Democratic Resistance Front (Front Perlawanan Demokratik Rakyat Aceh, FPDRA)
7. Student Solidarity Front for the People (Solidaritas Mahasiswa untuk Rakyat, SMUR) Aceh
8. People’s Forum (Forum Rakyat, FR) Aceh
9. Aceh Referendum Information Center (SIRA)
10. National Student Front (Front Mahasiswa Nasional, FMN)
11. CeSar
11. Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras)
12. Indonesian Human Rights Watch (Imparsial)
13. People’s Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Rakyat)
14. Action Study Circle for Indonesian Democracy (LS-ADI)
15. New Life (Hidup Baru)
16. Aceh People’s National Democratic League (Liga Nasional Demokratik Rakyat Aceh, LNDRA)
17. National Student League for Democracy (Liga Nasional Mahasiswa untuk Demokrasi, LMND)
18. People’s Democratic Party (PRD)

[Translated by James Balowski.]