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FROM NOW ON, IT IS NOT JUST FREE ACHEH BUT FREE SUMATRA! 


Source: NRC Handelsblad. 
Date: 1 June 1991. 
Original language: Dutch. 
The translation into English was provided by the 'Acheh/Sumatra National Liberation Front'. 
Byline: Wiecher Hulst. 
Story type: We have extracted from a page-long interview of Tengku Hasan di Tiro, leader of the 'Acheh/Sumatra National Liberation Front', those sections where Hasan di Tiro sets out his future plans for the whole of Sumatra. The presentation of his grandiose intentions in a leading Dutch newspaper did not, as far as we know, provoke any discussion in the Dutch press. Comments placed in brackets were bracketed in the original. 


FROM NOW ON, IT IS NOT JUST FREE ACHEH BUT FREE SUMATRA! 

Sumatra must be freed from the colonial control of the Republic of Indonesia. For that purpose the guerilla war now taking place in Acheh will be extended to the rest of the island of Sumatra this very year. Within two years Sumatra will become a Confederation of Free States in the fashion of Switzerland. That is not a little ambitious program of Dr. Tengku Hasan Muhammad di Tiro, leader of the Acheh/Sumatra National Liberation Front, better known as Free Acheh Movement or Acheh Merdeka. 

"The Javanese will soon experience what the Dutch had long experienced before," said Tengku di Tiro in an interview somewhere in Switzerland. "For them there is no way to go than: out! And when they run out of Acheh, I will receive them somewhere else in Sumatra. That is my new strategy now: Iwill extend the war to the whole of Sumatra. From now on, it is no longer only Free Acheh, but Free Sumatra." 

Tengku Hasan di Tiro is a small but driven man, strikingly energetic for his sixty years. He has friendly eyes, which nevertheless are the very type that project radiant heat and inflexibility by the advantage of which his forefathers could fight the Netherlanders in Acheh for three generations. On account of that, his family on male line, was almost all destroyed. Since that was the order of the day, he sometimes could not speak of the history of his country very far from emotion. 

Tengu Hasan di Tiro himself has taken up arms in 1976. He began a guerilla war against what he saw as Javanese colonialism over his country, Acheh. After two -and -half years he had to give up the struggle. He left for foreign countries, where he is tirelessly trying to organize support for his war efforts. And according to him, it has not been without success. 

Two years ago a new guerilla war began in Acheh. First on a small scale but slowly becoming more and more destructive. Foreign newspapers reported last year that followers of Tengli Hasan di Tiro had received military training in Libya before they came back to Acheh to begin a new struggle for independence. Hasan di Tiro did not deny that but he made the meaning of it all in a rather relative terms: "The Libyans are giving scholarships to the whole Muslim world. Thousands of Achehnese, as well as others, have gone to schools in Libya for many years. The education they received there was not restricted to non-military sciences. Our movement must not be seen as 'contaminated ' because my men have gone to military schools in foreign countries, just like the Javanese have gone to Dutch military academy at Breda or others to Sandhurst. When my men returned home , they themselves have trained thousands of others. Where they originally received their education is no longer relevant. Now I have ten-thousands of trained men in Acheh. 

Six months 

The foreign relations of Tengku Hasan di Tiro are not limited to Libya. He said he had good relations with many states in Africa and Asia, but he will not say which one. "Wait six more months. Then the whole world will know more about us. We will then announce our relations with different states." Meanwhile the contour of the Sumatra Confederation will become clearer during this time. Also the plan for ousting the Javanese colonialist occupation troops from the whole of Sumatra will become clearer then. 

Tengku Hasan di Tiro denied that Acheh will be playing the leading role in the Sumatra Confederation. He is also not worried about the problem of the status of the Christian Bataks in the Muslims' lands. "I did not propose that the Achehnese should rule Sumatra; what I said was that the destiny of Sumatra is together with Acheh - as has been throughout our history. When the Dutch declared war on Acheh in 1873, the sovereignty over the whole of Sumatra was universally and formally recognized to be belonging to Acheh (There are two Treaties with England that proved that: the Treaty of 1603, and the Treaty of 1819. Both still valid) And when the Netherlands left in 1942, everything must return to the status quo ante bellum. Thus the whole Sumatra should have been returned to Achehnese sovereignty and become automatically independent again after World War II. That was the fait accompli of the past. For the future I am proposing a Confederation of Sumatra to all my fellow Sumartrans. A Confederation, like Switzerland. Thus a state of their own to every nationality group: there will be a Minangkabau State , a Riau State, a Lampung State, a Batak State, etc. All will have the same status as the State of Acheh." 

All these States can choose their own form of government. "Acheh will be an Islamic State because the people of Acheh will want it so. If the world wants to see this confirmed by referendum, I have no objection to such a referendum, because I know my people will want an Islamic State. Democracy can solve the problems of religions in Sumatra, not only in Acheh, also in Minangkabau or Batakland. If the Bataks wanted a Christian State for themselves, let them have it." 

Will the Sumatra Confederation plan of Tengku Hasan di Tito be well received in Sumatra? That is a question mark because the idea is so new. The idea of a unitary state seems to have been accepted in Indonesia. But Hasan di Tiro said that he had contacted all opposition groups in Sumatra, including the Christian Bataks. Then there is still a problem how to oust the strong Indonesian army from Acheh, and then from the rest of Sumatra. That seems am impossible choice. 

Now Jakarta has a force of 12,000 men in Acheh and that can be added to at any moment. The Acheh guerilla forces can attack Indonesian army patrols and industrial plants financed by Javanese capitalist interests. The Indonesian army reacted by mass arrests of the population and by taking reprisals on the Achehnese villages. That has been going on already. 

Tengku de Tiro estimated the number of dead - after some hesitation - "it was difficult to count precisely" - to be 10,000 in two years, while at the beginning of this year one thousand. He showed a bundle of hundreds of letters which he received from Acheh between December and March, in which the citizens reported to him of murders, tortures, and beating to death done by the Indonesian soldiers against the Achehnese people. 

According to the Indonesian government, all these excesses were begun by the followers of the Free Acheh Movement, which it referred to as GPK, an abbreviation of 'Gangs of Peace Disturbers'. And this GPK composed of drug-traffickers, who were frustrated because of the government's prohibition of their trade; and deserters from the army. Hasan di Tiro said this was nonsense. 

"The Javanese/Indonesian regime did not recognize the Free Acheh Movement. And it did not recognize me as the leader of the Free Acheh Movement. The regime blamed everything that happened to drug traders and criminals. When they release some prisoners the prisoners are forced to sign an oath of allegiance to the state philosophy, the panchasila, and to the Constitution of 1945. But prisoners are also forced to make an oath not to join the Hasan di Tiro's rebellion. Here, look at this!" 

He let me see an official Indonesian document, the one required by all released prisoners to sign, like the much publicized release ceremony in East Acheh not long ago. "My name was mentioned here three times. And after that they keep saying that the Movement has no leader, and is composed solely of criminals!" 

The Achehnese guerilla forces operate along the coast of the Malacca Straits where foreign investments played a major role: in natural gas industries, papers, timbers, cement, and gigantic agricultural plantations. Tengku Hasan di Tiro considered them "also responsible for the murders of the Achehese people" because of their backing to the Suharto regime. 

He has a message for the members of the IGGI (Inter Governmental Group for Indonesia): " They must withdraw their investments in Acheh within three months. If they failed to do so, the Free Acheh Movement will no longer protect their interests." So far, the Free Acheh Movement has left foreigners and foreign interests undisturbed in Acheh. But he "did not rule out, that the change will come." 

To the IGGI belonged all the important industrial countries, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. The consortium is under the chairmanship of the Netherlands and it gave help every year to the Indonesian regime between 4 and 5 billion US dollars. The next meeting of IGGI is June 11 and 12 at The Hague. 

Videotapes 

Since he left Acheh in 1979, Hasan di Tiro has returned several times. The latest, he said, in June 1990. He let me see two videotapes. On one of them, he spoke in Malay, not in Achehnese, because he was addressing the non-Achehnese Sumatrans, calling them to join in his liberation struggle to create a Free Sumatra. This videotape is now being shown all over Sumatra Clandestinely. 

On the other videotape I saw him presiding over a flag-raising ceremony (the Achehnese flag) in an open field in a jungle clearing accompanied by at least fifty young men in jungle camouflaged uniforms. "That was last year in Acheh," he said. 

Probably he is going back to Acheh again this year and this time to stay. "I have completed my works abroad. I will go home!" 

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Last modified: June 22, 2000