Subject: Nairn: A Deal Disarms One Side in Aceh


Clarity Achieved, Oppressors Still in Place: A Deal Disarms One Side in Aceh

By Allan Nairn

Posted at News and Comment,, August 15, 2005

Today (August 15, 2005) the Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka) will sign a deal with the government of Indonesia under which they agree to disarm and accept amnesty, money and farmland. They will be allowed to form a local political party in exchange for a political vow of silence: under Indonesian law the party will not be allowed to stand for what GAM has always stood for -- independence for Aceh, or at least a referendum vote on independence.

The TNI - POLRI (the Indonesian national armed forces and police), which has slaughtered many thousands of Acehnese civilians (GAM has also killed some, but a fraction as many), will temporarily withdraw some of its troops, but will have the long term right to bring them back at its pleasure since Jakarta remains Aceh's sovereign.

Even now in the upcoming transition months, when a couple of hundred foreign monitors will be present, troops from some of the most notorious military and police units can remain in Aceh: Intel operatives who run the torture houses, Air Force men who have bombed villages, and BRIMOB police who abduct and rape at checkpoints can stay so long as they are technically classified as "organic" elements. And outside and above the formal terms of the deal -- activists and military people agree -- the US-trained Kopassus special forces, the most feared of all, can also stay in Aceh, working undercover and applying the "tactic and technique" of "terror" and "kidnapping," as one of their classified training manuals puts it (Buku Petunjuk tentang Sandi Yudha TNI AD, Nomor: 43-B-01).

This deal has been portrayed as a TNI withdrawal and an Aceh peace deal. It is neither -- the TNI - POLRI stay, and they get to keep their weapons and use them at will -- and it is they who have been the main peace violators, doing the vast majority of civilian killings, tortures, arsons, rapes, disappearances, thefts, extortions, and arbitrary detentions.

But the deal does change the situation in a major way in that it puts armed GAM out of business, and helpfully clarifies the situation: it is now undeniably TNI - POLRI versus civilians. That has always been the essence of political life in modern Aceh but the world has never seen it because the GAM was futilely shooting at the oppressors and drawing away all outside attention (such as it was) from the TNI - POLRI's killings of civilians.

GAM deserves credit for disarming. They should have done it a long time ago. They were only making matters worse, and now that they're gone, there are possibilities. But their act of self-abnegation should not be misconstrued as a settlement to the Aceh problem, and their de facto vow of silence should not be construed as applying to Acehnese as a whole.

In November, 1999 the Acehnese mounted what was, in proportional terms, one of the largest demonstrations in world history. Perhaps a quarter of the population turned out in Banda Aceh to peacefully call for referendum. Caught completely off guard, the TNI - POLRI moved to crush the civilian movement, knowing that though they could not lose militarily in a shooting war with the GAM, they could well lose politically if the world got to hear peaceful Aceh voices.

That didn't happen. Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, the leading international voice, who had testified before the US congress, was tortured to death upon returning home (his body was found in September, 2000) (see posting of October.. 2004). Others were assassinated, jailed or driven into exile, and the first the world heard of Aceh was when the tsunami struck in December, 2004.

In legal and military terms the Acehnese are still as subordinated as they were before. Though the deal contains two references to the UN covenants on civil and political rights and establishes local institutions like a human rights court (with no specified powers), the same repressive laws that bind all Indonesians still apply to them, and, far more importantly, the TNI - POLRI -- effectively above the law anyway -- still occupy their region.

But in cold pragmatic terms, with the GAM now out of the way there is the chance that dissident speech, though still repressed, might now become politically fruitful. Muhammad Nazar, the best known civilian activist -- who was seen as too big to kill -- was jailed for giving a speech in a village in which he advocated referendum. Word is that he will be released, but if he gives the same speech again he can be jailed -- or worse -- again, but now, post-GAM, there will be a chance for such a sacrifice to draw some meaningful outside attention.

It was such attention that made it possible for East Timor to win independence in different circumstances, but for Aceh that is more difficult since it is historically part of Indonesia, and indeed predates it, while Timor was a foreign land that was invaded by Indonesia, with US backing, in 1975. The loss of a third of their population to TNI - POLRI slaughter gained nothing for the Timorese until the Dili massacre of 1991 drew some outside attention and the acknowledgment that this was an unjustified case of a military killing civilians.

Aceh is also such a case, and the Acehnese have also been dying in vain. If they continue to speak for referendum they will likely continue to die, but they may now get something for it, since the fog of two-sided combat will presumably no longer obscure the one-sided repression by TNI - POLRI.

What they might get is publicity that weakens the TNI/POLRI, and the repressive Indonesian state apparatus generally, and such weakening is the only hope for any substantial democracy, freedom, or justice in Aceh, and in Indonesia as a whole. But those harmful institutions will only be weakened on balance if the US, Europe, Australia and other outside powers can be stopped from using this deal as yet another excuse to try to push through a restoration and/or increase of foreign military and police aid. It was after all the cutting of that aid, in response to grassroots pressure, that cleared the way for the ending of the Timor occupation and, prior to that, the downfall of the US-backed dictator, Gen. Suharto.

So whether this deal helps or hurts will in important part depend on the behavior of outside parties, and it is just such risks and complexities that have made some TNI - POLRI generals reluctant to accept it. Much press coverage and grassroots speculation in Aceh has centered on whether TNI - POLRI and, for that matter, the GAM field fighters, will follow the deal. For many GAM people it is a bitter pill. It is they, and not the big-time killers who will have to lay down their arms, renounce their goal, and prostrate themselves before the enemy state. But at the same time they will get amnesty and will be ostensibly free to return to their homes. For the TNI - POLRI it looks like victory: they get the guns and the right to rule, while Aceh gets a local flag. But this sparring with GAM has been very good to the Jakarta generals. It has helped to justify their dominance of Indonesia and it has made many of them millionaires. It is easy to see why many of them will be sorry to see the armed GAM go.

But Indonesia's President, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono -- who supervised the Aceh repression and martial law under the previous President, Megawati Sukarnoputri -- takes a more strategic view. He seems to recognize that though TNI needs a two-sided shooting war for self-justification to Indonesians, it doesn't necessarily need two or three of them (The military recently sent 15,000 new Kostrad troops and Kopassus into harshly-repressed Papua in Indonesia's east, which has a lightly-armed rebel movement, and continues to stage violent Christian vs. Muslim provocations in the country's north - central islands), and that the loss of surplus money to be stolen from from a combat-zone Aceh can be more than compensated for by the money to be stolen from increased tsunami aid flows, and the power to be regained by the TNI - POLRI as a whole from new foreign military and police aid. (The military and police can also expect to continue running their rackets in Aceh and nearby North Sumatra, which have included illegal timber, marijuana, prostitution, hijacking, extortion, protection and offshore fishing platforms staffed by press-ganged under-aged boys). It was Gen. Susilo who said that "to demand a referendum" in Aceh "is considered a crime against the state" (Jakarta Post, December 24, 2003), and that principle will still be imposed by force, but he evidently hopes that this deal will now enable Jakarta to be seen from overseas as having somehow changed its stripes.

If Gen. Susilo proves to be right, and the deal brings fresh resources and strength for TNI - POLRI, then his generals' grumbling will have been groundless, and it will be a catastrophe for Indonesia and Aceh. But the officers do have at least one secondary reason for concern: An adviser to Indonesia's businessman vice president, Yusuf Kalla, a principal broker of the Aceh deal, says privately that Kalla will also now become the personal financial broker for newly opened-up international arms deals (the adviser says post-Aceh-deal deals are in sight with Europe, China, and Israel, among others), a lucrative role traditionally played by retired TNI and POLRI generals.

As this is being written -- a couple of hours before the deal signing in Helsinki, Finland -- people are gathering in Aceh's mosques and churches and praying publicly for peace, and perhaps privately for freedom and justice. This deal will deliver none of those things. They are still condemned to live under their oppressors. But it does scramble the situation and open up the outside chance that if they are still brave enough to speak, this time when they are shot down or put in chains, someone on the outside might hear the rattle.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Legal Arms for Illegal Purposes: A Note on the Aceh Militias

In Central Aceh, the TNI has an ethnic Javanese and Gayo militia force that is estimated to be larger than the Aceh-wide GAM. An investigator who speaks the local Gayo language puts their strength at 12,000 people and 6,000 weapons -- some homemade, some military issue. The Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Indonesia and GAM has a clause (4.9) for the "decommissioning of all illegal arms" but only those held by "illegal groups and parties," and under Indonesian law state-organized militias can be construed as legal.

Arms held by the TNI - POLRI are, of course, implicitly defined as legal, a privilege which every country in the world grants to its security forces. Some theorists say that the very definition of a state is its monopoly on legitimate violence. So the state's arms are always legal, even if routinely used for illegal acts like murder and theft, or to carry out policies like illegal invasions or occupations.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Good Cop - Bad Cop Blackmail on Aceh: The Advantages of Seeming Crazy    

The TNI - POLRI is now saying that they have about 35,000 men in Aceh, which, if true, would mean that under the Helsinki deal with GAM signed yesterday they will be temporarily withdrawing about 32% of their troops, not much more than a normal rotation.

It is often said that there are more TNI - POLRI bases than there are schools or mosques in Aceh, and traveling along the roads and counting suggests that in many zones that might well be true. In populated areas of the main Medan - Banda Aceh road one encounters a marked base or post every few hundred meters, not including the unmarked Intel and Kopassus bases, which are sometimes known to residents. In Langsa, plainclothes Kopassus officers can be seen smoking in their undershirts outside a run-down commercial building where local civil servants have been dragged in and had their faces mauled on suspicion of giving food to GAM.

The Kopassus men have money and are wordly; they move all over the archipelago, and their foreign trainers have included Americans, Australians, Germans, and Taiwanese. But it is the TNI's cruder street level militias -- not counted in official troop numbers -- that are now in the spotlight since people fear that if the Jakarta generals don't get enough payoff from the GAM surrender deal, they may unleash the militias in order to provoke the GAM into taking up arms again.

That scenario may be unlikely, but everyone knows from experience in Timor and elsewhere that it is not impossible, and that hanging possibility of supra-normal terror creates leverage for TNI - POLRI, both within Aceh and in their lobbying for restored aid overseas.

It is a classic good cop - bad cop con: the smooth lobbyists (like the President, Gen. Susilo, and Juwono Sudarsono, the defense minister) say to the foreigners: 'Look, these generals are crazy! You'd better buy them off with aid, or God know what they'll do. And as much as I'd like to stop them I can't be responsible for their actions. '

So on top of the continuing rule by their oppressors there's an implicit blackmail hanging over Aceh: if the generals don't get what they want -- like restored US guns and money -- they may take it out on Aceh and burn it, as they did to Timor in 1999.

Monday, August 15, 2005

How Many Weapons Did the Aceh GAM Have?: The Pathetic Pretense for Indonesian Terror

With the release today of the final Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Indonesia and GAM the fact has now been revealed that the GAM -- the pretense for TNI - POLRI's massive terror in Aceh -- has all of 840 weapons, barely enough to fill one big truck. At least that's the figure they declare in the document, and though the tally may not be totally honest, people familiar with GAM say that it cannot be that far from the truth.

The MOU also says that TNI - POLRI will for the moment openly keep 23,800 troops in Aceh, half or more of what they have now, and a figure roughly equivalent to their troop levels during many recent years. This gives the lie to the widely reported claim in recent weeks that TNI - POLRI would be pulling out, and heightens the question of their rationale for being there at all once the GAM has fully disarmed.

In any event, the troop numbers aren't that crucial, what matters is who's in control (the Indonesian government and TNI - POLRI) and what their policy is (no free speech, repression). As one local human rights monitor put when discussing the MOU clause that temporarily limits troop movements to one platoon (about 100 men in the TNI system): "it only takes one platoon to do a massacre or to start a riot."


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