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Pemuda Street, Bireuen, North Acheh, in 1992; but now it is all different reality. Like many other towns in Sub-District areas in Acheh, Bireuen and its vicinities have totally different appearance now. Many stores and homes have been torched to the ground during Indonesian military sweepings in search of separatist activists.
Acheh Killings a Wake up Call
 

 

CANBERRA, August 29, 2000 (AT)  The article in a prominent Australian weekend newspaper (Aug. 11-12) on the Julok massacre in Acheh, North Sumatra carried the headline "Massacre a wake-up call for new regime". But the Julok massacre was not a wake-up call for the new Indonesian administration of President Megawati Soekarnoputri, which is fully aware of the atrocities perpetrated by its security forces in Acheh. Rather, it was a wake-up call for the international community.
 
By Lesley McCulloch
 
 

   
   

'An unknown number were taken for further "questioning" by the security forces; despite the efforts of relatives to gain information on their whereabouts, they have not been seen since.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'The results of the latest military operation, which has been effective in Acheh since April, are to be witnessed in the likes of Julok and many similar, albeit smaller-scale, killing sprees undertaken by the military.'

  HE MASSACRE IN East Acheh on Aug. 9 left at least 31 dead and nine in hospital. Eyewitnesses tell of the arrival of the military at the barracks of a plantation company in the early morning. Workers were forced outside and their wages taken; women and children were separated from the men. The military then forced the men to take off their shirts and opened fire, next turning on the women and children. Among the 31 dead were two under the age of five and several women.

The military then proceeded to terrorize civilians in nearby villages, accusing the men of being members of the Free Acheh Movement (GAM, which has been fighting for independence from Jakarta for more than 25 years). An unknown number were taken for further "questioning" by the security forces; despite the efforts of relatives to gain information on their whereabouts, they have not been seen since.

Prime Minister John Howard's visit to Jakarta on Aug. 12, in the immediate wake of this latest massacre, was the perfect opportunity for Australia to represent the international community's concern for human rights to President Megawati. Instead, Prime Minister Howard engaged in what can only be described as a dance of "Aussie mateship". He even told reporters that "We
admire the steps being undertaken by Indonesia to emerge as a democracy".

But Indonesia is a struggling "democracy". And behind the "mateship" being courted by the Australian government lies the ever-present (although increasingly ignored) darker side of Indonesian politics. The massacre in Julok was overlooked; Prime Minister Howard chose instead to pledge that Australia would be patient with its closest neighbor, which has so many problems to overcome.

Perhaps Howard should have been briefed on the current situation in Acheh prior to courting this new-found "mateship". The results of the latest military operation, which has been effective in Acheh since April, are to be witnessed in the likes of Julok and many similar, albeit smaller-scale, killing sprees undertaken by the military.

Such events are evidence of the "security solution" favored by the military and several political elites. The political solution which former President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) favored, and which Megawati says she also prefers to pursue, is nothing more than a political game. The special autonomy package signed recently in Jakarta allows (among other things) Acheh to keep 70 per cent of oil and gas revenue. Jakarta's perceived exploitation of Acheh's vast oil and gas reserves has been a major factor winning GAM sympathy in its push for independence. But it does not address the issue of justice for those who have suffered human rights abuses. The package is merely an
agreement between Jakarta and the Achenese elite to whose interests it was tailored. Meanwhile, its relevance to the horrors of the killing fields of Acheh will be minimal.

Prime Minister Howard should be reminded that latest talks on Acheh broke down in July and that Jakarta subsequently suspended two joint rebel-government
committees that were monitoring security and humanitarian affairs. Six of the GAM members of this committee, subsequently arrested, remain in custody.  Moreover, several Achenese are being held as political prisoners, charged under the same articles Soeharto used to silence his critics.

In addition, while Howard witnessed in Jakarta the preparations for Indonesia's Aug. 17th Independence Day celebrations, the Achenese were being forced to purchase and display the red and white flag. The district military commander declared with pride that "90 percent of houses have the flags".

A message I received from Banda Acheh on Aug. 16 from an activist in Banda Acheh read: "Please help us. The military is intimidating us if we don't buy a flag but many people have burned flags and now the military is angry. I am very afraid. Since Megawati become Indonesia's president the condition of Acheh has been more repressive."

Recently two mass graves have been found with a total of 57 bodies. The first was uncovered in West Acheh, the bodies allegedly some of those taken for "further questioning" by the military in the wake of the Julok massacre. A second grave with nine bodies has also been found. And what of the others who were taken that day?

Since the beginning of the year, around 1,500 people have died in Acheh, more than half of that number since the beginning of the new military operation in April.

Behind the facade of "democratization" lies the hand of the military. Take, for example, the appointment of the new Attorney General, M.A. Rachman. Bowing to pressure from the military and some political elite, Megawati appointed to the post of Attorney General the executive chair of the special team formed to investigate the 1999 human rights violations in East Timor. That team, headed by Rachman
upon whose shoulders victims of human rights abuses and those who campaign for accountability now pin their hopesfound there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any of the high ranking officers (including former military commander  Gen. Wiranto) who were involved.

Howard was the first foreign leader to meet Megawati since she was sworn in as president several weeks ago. He should have taken that opportunity to register dismay at, among other things, recent events in Acheh. Instead, his emphasis was on searching for common ground upon which to forge closer ties with the Republic of Indonesia.

Military ties are an inevitable part of that process. In negotiating such ties, however, the Australian government should be aware that the highly nationalist President Megawati will, in the face of pressure from the military and political elites, give the military a carte blanche to ensure the integrity of the state against the wishes of separatist movements such as GAM.

The Howard government is moving dangerously close to being complicit in what can only be described as a second East Timor. In Acheh, the rule of law comes from the barrel of a gun; militia groups armed, trained, and financed by the military have become more apparent in recent months; the climate of fear is all-pervasive, and the victim and fear mentality has led to an escalation in the conflict; the social fabric for most of the population of four million has all but disappeared; and infrastructure has been destroyed.

Howard's government should spend time assessing "lessons learned" and alter its policies accordingly. The courting of "mateship" must be delayed. As in all good love stories, a good relationship is one worth waiting for.

Lesley McCulloch is based at the University of Tasmania, Australia, and is one of the contributors to The Acheh Times.

   
 
 
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