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Aceh for beginners
The Process of Ethnic Dilution in Aceh
M.N.Djuli ( )

I. Introduction

Ureueng Aceh

Meunyo hana teupèh até

Padé bijeh pih teubi

Meunyo ka teupèh até

Bu leubèh pih han ta peutaba

This Acehnese saying describes the feeling of the Acehnese very well these days: Indeed, an Acehnese would give you everything even his “padé bijeh” (next season’s rice seeds), if you don’t hurt his feeling, he but if you did, he won’t let you have even the leftover. Indonesians have not only broken Acehnese heart, but they have murdered, robbed, raped and humiliated them for so long and so brutally that to expect them to forgive and forget just like that is quite unrealistic.

 Many Acehnese are saying, “It is not that we don’t want Indonesia, but Indonesia does not want us” and for many others it is just plain disgust of everything Indonesian.

Let’s look into how this situation has come about.

I.1 The name

In the 14th century, the Arabs gave Aceh (originally Atjeh according to the Dutch spelling or Acheh in English, but with the advance of the Malaysia-Indonesia joint spelling system, now commonly known as Aceh), the epithet of “the Veranda of Mecca” for the piety of its people. The Acehnese themselves often refer to their homeland lovingly as “Tanoh Meutuah” (the “Blessed Land”), not only for the richness of the land in natural resources but especially for its strong and pure Islamic tenets; Islam was originally brought to Aceh by South Indians, but later its own ulamas went to Mecca to study from the source. On their return, they discarded all regional influences and accepted only those inscribed in the Quran and Hadith (Prophet Muhammad’s tradition). The Acehnese then spread the religion through out South East Asia.

The Acehnese also call their country “Tanoh Lhee Sagoe” (The Triangle Land), representing the three original States comprising the Kingdom, as well as the geographical shape of the country at the northern most tip of Sumatra.

Indonesians and neighbors often refer to the land as “Tanah Rencong”, the land of the rencong, the national dagger shaped in the form of the first Quranic letters: Alif Lam Mim. Some experts said the shape represent an artistic calligraphy of Bismillahirahmanirrahim (In the name of Allah the most benevolent and merciful).

But most Acehnese now agree that the most suitable name for their land is “Aceh Bersimbah Darah”, the title of a 284 page book listing the atrocities perpetrated by the Indonesian Army during the imposition of its “Military Operational Area” in Aceh, infamously known as DOM (Indonesian acronym of Daerah Operasi Militer), from 1989 to 1998.

(picture 2: decapitated head).

I.2. The administration

Aceh is one of the 27 provinces of the Republic of Indonesia (now 26 after the exit of East Timor in September 1999). Administratively Aceh is called “Daerah Istimewa Tingkat I” (Class I Special Territory), that is divided into “Kabupaten” (District, which is headed by a “Bupati” of District Officer). Each Kabupaten consists of several (depending on its size) Kecamatan (Sub-District, headed by a Camat), and Kecamatan consists of “Desa” or Kampong (Village, headed by a Kepala Desa, village chief, or, like everything else in Indonesia shortened to “Kades”). 

(picture: map of Indonesia)

I.3. A bit of history of the conflict

The name Indonesia itself is derived from Indos Nesos (Indian islands, a name given to the archipelagos by a German writer in the 19th century). To the natives, these archipelagos are known as “Nusantara” (Countries in between, referring to its geographical location between the Indian and Pacific oceans). The Dutch called it Indonetie that comprised the islands “owned” by VOC, the Dutch East India Company. When VOC went bankrupt, having declared big dividends to its shareholders for decades by borrowing money from the Dutch government, Indonetie was taken over by the Dutch Government and it became its colony. The Dutch were chased out by the Japanese in 1942. On August 1945 Sukarno proclaimed the Independence of Indonesia. There had been an attempt by the Dutch to return to Indonesia behind the Allied Forces, mainly British, but was fiercely opposed by freedom fighters. On December 27 1949, following pressure from the United Nations (read the Allied victors of WW2), the Dutch surrendered the sovereignty over Indonetie to the Republic of Indonesia.

 The name Indonesia itself is derived from Indos Nesos (Indian islands, a name given to the archipelagos by a German writer in the 19th century). To the natives, these archipelagos are known as “Nusantara” (Countries in between, referring to its geographical location between the Indian and Pacific oceans). The Dutch called it Indonetie that comprised the islands “owned” by VOC, the Dutch East India Company. When VOC went bankrupt, having declared big dividends to its shareholders for decades by borrowing money from the Dutch government, Indonetie was taken over by the Dutch Government and it became its colony. The Dutch were chased out by the Japanese in 1942. On August 1945 Sukarno proclaimed the Independence of Indonesia. There had been an attempt by the Dutch to return to Indonesia behind the Allied Forces, mainly British, but was fiercely opposed by freedom fighters. On December 27 1949, following pressure from the United Nations (read the Allied victors of WW2), the Dutch surrendered the sovereignty over Indonetie to the Republic of Indonesia.

 This surrender of sovereignty is disputed by the Acheh-Sumatra National Liberation Front (ASNLF), which is fighting for the independence of Aceh, popularly known as “Acheh Merdeka” (Free Acheh). According to ASNLF, the Dutch could not surrender the sovereignty that it did not possess over Aceh. The Acehnese had been fighting against the Dutch continuously since the latter declared war against them in 1873 that ended only in 1942, when not a single Dutch official remained in Aceh. The Japanese Navy that came to Aceh did not invade the land but invited to fight along side the Acehnese against the Dutch. This cooperation was the result of a visit in 1942 of a delegation of PUSA (Association of Acehnese Ulamas) to Penang in then Malaya, now Malaysia, to ask the Japanese Navy under Admiral Fujiwara to help them chase the Dutch out. There was an agreement signed in Singapore that Aceh would be given Independence once the Japanese defeated the Dutch. The Japanese clearly did not keep its part of the bargain, and eventually treated Aceh as badly as it did its other occupied territories. The Acehnese were so angry that villagers armed only with machetes attacked a Japanese base at Bayu, in Lhok Seumawe. 120 Acehnese were killed, 30 Japanese soldiers were injured in the incident that triggered a new war for the Acehnese against another world colonialist power. They eventually defeated the Japanese, and by the time Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by atomic bombs, Aceh had been already 100 % liberated. The Dutch returned to several parts of Indonesia behind the British forces under the pretext of repatriating the Japanese. From Medan, North Sumatra, they started coming down to Aceh thinking it would be a walkover, their soldiers fresh from the world war victory. But the Acehnese who had mastered the use of some tanks left by the Japanese gave the Dutch advanced tank units a big shock at Langsa where they were defeated again and were chased back to Medan. The Acehnese helped liberated Medan. The Indonesian revolutionary government then appointed the Acehnese armed forces commander, Lt. Col. Husin Joesoef as TNI commander for the whole of Sumatra, while the Acehnese great ulama, Teungku Daud Beureu-eh was named Military Governor of Aceh and and of several autonomous regions in Eastern Sumatra such as Langkat.

ASNLF maintained thus that the three years Japanese occupation was only military and the occupiers had never established its sovereignty over Aceh. During that time Aceh was again a free nation.

 It is this dispute that has caused its armed conflict with the Jakarta government. Unable to crash the Acheh Merdeka rebellion, the Indonesian government poured in its so-called elite special force, the US trained KOPASSUS and declared the province virtually under military rule with the infamous DOM. (Daerah Operasi Militer = Military Operation Territory). During this period, thousands of Acehnese civilians, men, women, children and the elderly, have been murdered and tortured. Hundreds of women and children raped, hundreds of houses and shops burnt to the grounds.

 “I have told the community, if you find a terrorist, kill him. There is no need to investigate him. Don’t let people be victims. If they don’t do as you order them, shoot them on the spot, or butcher them. I tell members of the community to carry sharp weapons, a machete or whatever. If you meet a terrorist, kill him”.
(General H.R. Pramono/Reuter 25.11.1990).

 Thus the curtain of brutality of the Indonesian military in Aceh was officially raised, and the drama that followed is still going on today. After the lifting of DOM in December 1998, which was soon replaced by the Pasukan Pengawal Rusuhan Massa, known, of course, under its acronym, PPRM, the special force that unites most of the Indonesian special armed units including the Marines, the Intelligence, the Brimob (para-military police), with the Army at its core.

 (picture: Indonesian soldiers carrying decapitated head)

II. History of the Indonesian military brutality in Aceh

The violations of human rights of ordinary civilians in Aceh by the Indonesian authorities have been going on for a very long time. However, before the declaration of the DOM in 1989, these violations were still excesses carried out by military units without showing any prior planning on the part of the central government.

During the Darul Islam (DI) rebellion (1953-1965) detention camps were set up in many major towns all over Aceh to hold families (including children) of rebels in order to force the men to surrender. This modus operandi of going after the women and children as retaliation against their rebellious men has thus been adopted by the Indonesian military since the very beginning of its dealing with Acehnese.

“We need information, when you try to kill a snake in a chair, sometimes you break the chair too” (Ibrahim Hasan, former Governor of Aceh, defending the policy of arresting relatives of Acheh Merdeka sympathisers – Far Eastern Economic Review, 25/7/1991).

As one of the example of the early abuses of human rights in Aceh, towards the end of 1953 for example, the wife of Teungku Daud Beureueh, the president of the Darul Islam himself, was detained at a school building in Sigli, the capital of Kabupaten Pidie, together with some 30 other women and children of suspected rebels.

(Picture: Tengku Daud Beureueh).

Massacres took place quite often even then, the beating of villagers and confiscation of their properties, burning of their houses (discovery of banana leaves that have been used as wrappers for rice near a house was sufficient justification for the military to accuse the owner of feeding the rebels and to have his house burnt to the ground, him arrested and his family sent to a detention centre). Road blocks were set up every few kilometres along the Banda Aceh (then called Kutaraja, King’s Fort) main road to Medan (900 km), at every one of them the driver or the conductor of the bus had to pay a bribe to be let pass without search that may delay the bus for hours.

The most well known massacre that took place during the 12 year rebellion of the DI is the so-called “Pulot-Chot Jeumpa incident”, in which 148 people from the two fishing villages were executed after being line up on the beach.

This tragic incident that raised the curtain of extraordinary cruelties of the Indonesian army against the people of Aceh took place in March 1954. A truck of soldiers from the 142 Infantry Battalion of the Indonesian National Army (TNI) from West Sumatra, part of reinforcements sent to quell the Acehnese rebellion, was on patrol that fateful day. Passing a small bridge located between these two villages the truck hit a mine, the rebels who were waiting in ambush attacked them with machine guns and then fled the scene.  The next day, another unit of the battalion went straight to the two villages, gathered the villagers and demanded to know the rebels’ hiding place. Not able to give the information, they were then lined-up on the beach and executed.

(Picture: This roadblock is not of the bygone era but of today.
The military perform very frequently “sweeping” operations in Aceh.
Security is not always the intention. The necessity of having “papers” is very strictly enforced. Having the “wrong paper”, like a Malaysian permanent resident identity card would definitely land you in trouble.)

While it is clear that the incident was not planned by the higher authorities of the army or constituted a complicity on the part of the government, the cover-up and subsequent failure to take any action against the perpetrators of this massacre, despite the wide publicity given by the press (at least a book was written on it and the Washington Post condemned it as a massacre), encouraged the field military commanders to do as they please from then on.

Indeed, it is this failure, this attitude on the part of the Government that have entrenched the new modus operandi of the Indonesian armed forces: to go against the innocent civilians whenever their enemy beats them in battle. 

(picture: mother of 4, raped after her husband was killed- Peureulak 12/06/99)

Thus the difference between the violations of humans rights in Aceh in that period and those perpetrated during the DOM that continue unabated until now is only in the intensity of the incidents and the level of involvement of the Indonesian Government itself. During the period of the DI rebellion, the Jakarta regime’s involvement was from the fact of its failure to prevent them and in letting them continued to be carried out by the military without taking any action, either to stop the abuses, or even much less to punish those responsible for the atrocities. 

(Picture: Junaidi Husaini – aged 6 ½ of Alue Ie Nireh village East Aceh, 
shot dead by TNI while playing in front of his house.)

During the DOM period, which is now continued by the PPRM (the so called “non organic” troops belonging to this force posted to Aceh now number more than 42 000), the military is clearly carrying out a policy that is not only known, but also set up by Jakarta.

“The peace was disturbed. It was as if there was no longer peace in this country. It was as though all there was, was fear… We had to apply some treatment to take some stern action. What kind of action? It had to be with violence. But this violence did not mean just shooting people, pow! pow! Just like that. No! But those who tried to resist, like it or not, had to be shot … some of the corpses were left in public places, just like that. This was for the purpose of ‘shock therapy’ … this was done so that the general public would understand that there was still someone capable of taking action to tackle the problem of criminality”. 
(Suharto, “My Thoughts, Speeches and Actions”-1989/Amnesty International July 28 1993).

As such, the involvement of the Indonesian Government can not only be termed as state terrorism against the people of Aceh, but clearly a deliberate measure of ethnic cleansing or genocide. Whatever term one wants to apply for it, the purpose is clear, to subdue the entire Acehnese people by force, by killing, by torture, by whatever means, so that they would accept whatever fate dictated for them by the Central Government.

(Picture : Ismail Batee, sickly and emaciated permanently after the ‘treatment’ applied in a Lhok Sukon, Eastern Aceh detention camp of the KOPASSUS, the “elite” special force unit of the Indonesian Army, then led by Suharto’s son in-law, General Prabowo).

This fact is even clearer when considered from the sort of life the Acehnese have been forced to accept, not only from the physical oppression like the murders and tortures that have taken tens of thousands of victims, produced more than 16 000 orphans, 128 women and young girls raped, 597 houses burnt during the DOM period alone, not only from the fact that this sort of brutalities continues with vehement and openly now, with massacres taking place in full view of the world press, with some 200 000 persons or 5% or the population were displaced up to August 1999 (from September, following the reduction of the military operations in villages, the number has come down to about 50 000, but another problem arose, those who have returned to their villages are facing hunger as their properties had been stolen, their unattended  animals dead or stolen, their rice, vegetable and fruit trees destroyed),  but also from the deliberate neglect on the general standard of living of the Acehnese whose very existence has become more and more threatened every day. In the refugee camps, 3827 babies were registered of which 46 were born there and 35 persons died.

(Picture : Massacre at Idi Cut – Peureulak (TNI’s operation called “Satgas Wibawa 99) – note the corpse with wires tied around its neck and hands. The corpse is one of those bundled in gunni sacks loaded with rocks fished out by villagers from the Arakunoe River).

Today, almost everyday there are innocent people getting killed or brutalised in Aceh. While some of these killings are blamed to “petrus” (mysterious killers), 42 000 members of PPRM seem to be uninterested in controlling them, as none of these killers have been arrested. In fact some that were captured by the people and surrendered to the authorities have simply disappeared.

Indeed, the form of physical oppression carried out by the armed forces and the police of the Central Government is not just open killings, arrests and detentions of the Acehnese in their own homeland that produces 40% of the world consumption of natural gas, that contribute 20 % to the national budget with its petrol, timber, gold, cement, paper and many other natural resources, but deliberate neglect in all sectors of life. 

There are very few health facilities in Aceh. This situation has caused a very low birth rate that is coupled by very high mortality rates of infants and of women in labor.

For comparison, in 1950, after 5 years of Independence, the population of Indonesia was 75 million, while that of Aceh was 3.5 million. Now the population of Indonesia has increased more than 3 folds, but that of Aceh still remains the same, the increase of about 12 % being only by transmigration of the population from Java. Killings also play a major role in lowering of the number of population of Aceh. One has to accept the fact that when a male person dies at prime age, the probability is that the population for his generation will be reduced by four, being his probable offspring. In the next generation, the missing 4 will have to be multiplied by 4 again, and so on. So when you have tens of thousands of people killed, one can calculate by what number the population is reduced.

(Picture: Villagers lifting a corpse that was weighted with rocks from the Batee Alue Mirah River. The dead was Jailani Ali, from a nearby village, found on 2.2.99. 

III. Gradual destruction of the fabrics of the Acehnese society

Above all that, the gradual destruction of Aceh is much more felt in the devastation of the fabrics of its society. The society of Aceh has always been governed by a closely knitted co-operation of two branches of leadership: the worldly power of the government and the religious authorities led by the ulamas. This dichotomy works well in Aceh, from the very top down the village level, between the Keutchik (village chief) and the Imam. During the New Order regime this institution was relegated to insignificance. The Javanese system of Lurah and Kades was brought in. Traditionally a Keutchik is someone most respected in the village and usually well to do and do not draw any salary, the Imam is the most knowledgeable in the religion and usually someone who lives a simple life. He is also not paid a salary but people do send him contributions and gifts. One never encroaches on the domain of the other but the two always co-operate for the betterment of the village. In performing his task the Keutchik always asks the opinion of the Imam, while the Imam leaves it to the Keutchik to deal with the daily affair of the village. This arrangement goes up to the top, which in fact gave birth to the famous Acehnese saying on the sharing of power: Kuasa bak po Teumeureuhom, Hukom bak Syah Kuala. (The power with the King and the Law with the Great Imam of Syah Kuala).

During the New Order regime, this arrangement has been destroyed at village level with the introduction of the Javanese style administration Keutchik has been replaced by Kades (Kepala Desa) and several vilages are placed under Kelurahan, headed by a Lurah to replace the traditional Mukim. These are the lowest ranking civil servants who are paid lowly salaries and thus opening the way to corruption, usually from issuing simple papers for the purpose of obtaining identity cards, or by siphoning village development funds. The Imam is relegated to insignificance of leading prayers at kenduri (feast). 

In the urban and sub-urban areas, all sort of entertainment that is not suitable to the population way of life has been  introduced: bar with hostesses, gambling dens, while alcoholic drinks are available everywhere, even at road side stalls.

III.1 Transmigration

The Transmigrasi project is the transfer of population from overcrowded Java to the outer islands. The World Bank supports this project with the noble aim of reducing overcrowding and the inherent poverty in Java. But its implementation has produced a sinister deviation. The Javanese have not been sent to unpopulated areas but used for a hidden agenda. In the case of Aceh, if the program were to continue at the same rate it has been done, before long the Acehnese would be a minority in their own homeland, as the case of the Papuans is now. 

“With transmigration we are implementing what we have promised: to gather and to unite the entire ethnics into a single people, the people of Indonesia. The different ethnics will gradually disappear and at the end there will be only one type of people(Martono, Indonesian Minister of Transmigration/The Ecologist, London, 2/3/86).

For years during the DOM the Indonesian government estimated the strength of the Aceh Merdeka rebels remaining in the jungle after the initial upheaval, as between 80 to 200 armed fighters. It is incredible that ten of thousands of the so-called “elite” troops of the Republic were unable to quell the rebellion. It has been suspected that not just the military that intentionally did not want to end the conflict in order to perpetuate its importance in the political life of the country as is theorised now, but it is the policy of the Central Government under Suharto itself, for the purpose of facilitating the flow of the transmigrants. Daily jumbo jet flights were used to rush the transfer of these people in order to repeat what they have successfully done in Irian (Western Papua): to dilute the Acehnese quickly that they became insignificant even rendered them a minority in their own country. Looking at the rate of the population transfer this would have definitely happened within the next decade if Suharto were not brought down by the student revolution in Jakarta.

“Transmigration is a program that cannot be separated from the national security and defence consideration. To prepare places or lands and to annihilate all obstacles existing there. We need to give special attention to the selection of these places, a policy that is directly connected to the territorial administration concept” (General Benny Murdani, former Chief of ABRI and Minister of Defence, retranslated from a quote first published by “The Ecologist”, London, 2 march 1986).

There is a signboard posted at the gate of a transmigrants village at Cot Girek, Lhok Sukon, North Aceh with these words: “Orang Aceh dilarang masuk” (no entry for Acehnese) - this ban has been strictly enforced by soldiers, raising the question, why? Is it a simple matter of racial discrimination, such as used to be practiced in South Africa, or is it something more sinister being prepared in it?

The deliberate neglect of Aceh by the Central Government is coupled by the deliberate destruction of existing infrastructure left by Dutch colonial government and the Japanese military occupation. Many airfields left by the Japanese are gone, either taken over by corporate figures for industrial purposes or by villagers for agriculture, without the Government happily adopting a laissez-faire policy.

Until the seventies there was in Sigli the second biggest railway workshop in Indonesia (after the one in Bandung, West Java) left by the Ducth. Not only this workshop is now gone, the railway system in Aceh itself is no more, the rails sold as scrap and the locomotives and equipment sent to another province. 

(Picture: Madam Hasanah, 35, from Kampong Beurandang, Rantau Panjang, Eastern Aceh District of Peureulak. Raped by TNI soldiers on July 17 1997). 

The tropical forests in Aceh have been devastated in such a way that in areas like Takengon that used to have very cool and fresh air, that people used banana leaves to carry cooking oil, now is almost as hot as in the lowland of Bireuen. It has become so dusty due to the hundreds of trips made by heavy trucks carrying logs on dirt tracks that are reserved for this purpose only, that one can see the hills around the second highest volcanic lake in the world, the Danau Laut Tawar (“The lake of fresh water sea”), either bald or whitish in colour due to the dust. Every time it rains there is flash flooding in the villages.

III.2 Socio-cultural and moral oppressions

There had been deliberate and systematic socio-cultural and moral oppressions during the so-called Orde Baru (New Order) government of General Suharto. Prostitution that was not known in Aceh before had become rampant. 

“The human rights violations committed in Aceh fall into a pattern of systematic and gross abuses already well-established in Indonesia. The large number of unidentified bodies killed in the same manner is reminiscent of the “mysterious killings” in 1983-85 when the security forces embarked on anti-crime campaign using summary executions as a form of “shock therapy”. The military blames the “GPK” for the deaths; if serious and impartial inquests and autopsies were conducted, the validity of those claims could be tested”. (Sidney Jones, New York, 27/12/1990 – Asia Watch, now called Human Rights Watch – Asia.

The Acehnese language had been so downgraded that only people in the villages were using it, educated Acehnese had become embarrassed if caught speaking the language in public. The Acehnese dialect of the Malay language that was very common in Aceh before the New Order came to power, as are still the Deli and Medan dialects, has simply become extinct, replaced by the bazaar Malay of Jakarta. Acehnese were teased for their supposed stupidity such as bargaining when purchasing stamps, or taking off their shoes when entering the cinema. 

(Picture: This villager of Kampong Simpang Keuramat, Buloh Blang Ara, North Aceh was tortured to death by TNI soldiers). 

The Gajah Putih (“white elephant”) division of the Indonesian army that originated from the Acehnese freedom fighters that had contributed so much for the independence of Indonesia was disbanded by Suharto in a very humiliating manner reserved in military tradition for units that have committed cowardice in battle (tearing of insigna from uniforms to be burnt together with the division’s banner). All its officers and men were dispersed in to other divisions, while Aceh itself was placed militarily under the North Sumatran Bukit Barisan division. This measure was calculated not only to humiliate the Acehnese but also to render the socalled “special autonomous” province into nothing but a simple colony. 

(Picture: Handicapped Sumiyati Hamzah, orphan, with both legs and left arm disfigured and hardly able to walk was raped by a soldier of the 126 Infantry Battalion of the ABRI - Angkatan Bersenjata Republic Indonesia, Armed Forces of the Indonesian Republic, the name given by Suharto to TNI, then on incorporated also the police -, that was based in her village, Peumanah, Trieng Gadeng, Pidie. After giving birth to Sumiati went to look for the unit of her rapist that had since that been transferred to Tebing Tinggi in North Sumatra. The battalion commander called the culprit who admitted his crime in her presence. She was given 250 000 rupiah and told to go home and not to tell anybody else about the matter. There was no  disciplinary action by the battalion commander, in fact it is learnt that the soldier is back in Aceh, serving in a unit that is based in Tiro, Pidie).

Many independent monuments were replaced, with new ones listing not the names of those heroes who fell during the fight for independence against the Dutch and the Japanese but TNI soldiers who were killed in battles during the DI rebellion.

(Picture: Another mass grave discovered. Note the robes found with the broken bones, silent witnesses that the victims were tied-up and tortured to death).

History books were rewritten to completely eliminate the crucial role played by the Acehnese in the struggle against colonialism and in the achievement of independence for the whole of Indonesia. Textbooks such as the one written by Sanusi Pane, for many years officially used by national secondary schools, were banned. Acehnese students who were lucky enough to obtain places in foreign universities were incredulous to read the truth about their people. Even the in-flight magazine of Garuda, the national flag carrier that proudly announces its revolutionary beginning with two DC3 planes, failed to mentioned who donated these planes and in what circumstances, the article does not even mention that the names of the planes, Seulawah 1 and Seulawah 2, were after the names of the twin-peaks mountain in Aceh, which the magazine simply translated as “gold mountains”. Where they got the idea for this translation of the name is a mystery. (The peaks, that Acehnese often use as another symbol of their homeland, are called Seulawah Agam and Seulawah Inong, the male and female Seulawah, one being a bit lower than the other).

During the DOM period Aceh was closed to foreigners, only those with special visas, normally reserved for expatriates working in the gas field or other giant foreign controlled projects such as the ASEAN fertilizers plant in Lhok Seumawe. Aceh is invariably described to foreigners as an unsafe area, the people as being fierce, backward, religious fanatics, ganja (hashish) planters and any other negative characteristics they can think of. To the West, Acehnese are described as “fundamentalists”, while to Islamic countries, Indonesia presents itself as the largest Islamic country in the world and Acehnese were separatists, extremists, and even communists for a while, out to destroy the unity of the Islamic world.

(Picture: villagers searching bodies in the Arakundoe, Peureulak, East Aceh, after a major massacre by TNI troops. Many corpses were fished out in gunnysacks loaded with rocks, or in wooden or metal cages, showing deliberate preparation of the massacre. Eyewitnesses said villagers returning from a religious talk by a known Aceh Merdeka sympathiser were ambushed at the head of the bridge).

The consequences of these very successful propaganda points of the Indonesian government, Acehnese became at best ignored and sometimes even badly treated abroad even in such close neighbours as Malaysia and Singapore, despite the fact that Aceh has a very long brotherly history with South East Asian countries, especially with the Malays. The isolation of Aceh was such that for 10 years the Suharto regime had managed to hide the murders of tens of thousands of people, with hundreds of mass graves are now being reported, and 36 already dug out and one of these containing more than 200 bodies.

It is with such a background that SCHRA was formed at the Asian Conference on Aceh organised in Bangkok on July 24th 1999 by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development with the cooperation of the International Forum for Aceh (IFA – New York) 

(Picture: Bangkok Conference
From left: Dr. Zaini Abdullah, head of the delegation of ASNLF, Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL,
Prof. Ir. Ibrahim Abdullah, Member of the delegation of the Governor of Aceh,
Haji Shalahuddin Alfata, Chairman of FOPKRA
And at the podium, the moderator of the first session, Ms. Evelyn Balais-Serrano of Forum-Asia)

This small booklet is intended to help introduce to the world community the gross human rights abuses that have been and are still perpetrated by the Indonesian Government against the Acehnese. 

 (Picture: Australian Ambassador McCarthy during a visit to one of the “widows village” of Cot Keng, near Sigli, Pidie. Most men of such villages had been round-up and executed by ABRI during the DOM, in at least one such village 80% of the population consists of widows and old men).


IV.1 The Military

After the fall of the “New Order” regime of Suharto, ABRI changed its name back to TNI with the theoretical exclusion of the Police from the force. But in Aceh all the units are grouped again in the PPRM unit, the virtual ruler of the land at present.

In opposing the criticisms often launched against it by Indonesians outside Aceh, especially in Jakarta where the new freedom of speech is having its honeymoon, the leadership of the Indonesian armed forces like to remind the people that they are the “anak rakyat”, children of the people, and as such, it is impossible for them to oppress the people. Unfortunately ABRI has never reminded itself of its historic origin.

It is true of course that TNI originates from a noble source, the freedom fighters. 

During the DOM period (1989-1998) at least 15 000 civilians were killed, 1958 were officially registered as missing, 128 women and girls raped, 81 sexually abused, 597 houses burnt, 16 375 children orphaned. Until July 1998, 23 mass graves have been discovered containing hundreds of bodies.

Since the lifting of DOM, things have worsen with the arrival of the PPRM force of some 42 000 soldiers of various specialised military and police units. Up 20.07.99, the SMUR (Students solidarity for Referendum) had registered 86 874 refugees in Aceh. By August the number had peaked to 200 000. In September, following popular pressure, the government agreed to suspend operations of PPRM in the rural areas except in the three districts termed as “rawan” (dangerous): Pidie, North and East Aceh. At present the number fluctuates around 50 000. But another problem cropped up: those who have returned to their villages after the occupying soldiers left them, found their properties stolen, their animals stolen or dead, their vegetables, fruit trees and rice fields ruined unattended. Many are facing hunger, with only the students looking after them the best they could.

But after the old soldiers “faded” into retirement, the replacement in the higher ranks came from those produced by the local National Military Academy of Malang, Central Java, or from famous foreign military academies such as the American West Point and the British Sandhurst. They are supposed to be highly educated and trained professionals. But unfortunately the dwi fungsi (double functions) status imposed by Suharto as the new doctrine and status of the military has somehow turned these elite class into a group whose interest is mainly enriching themselves and entrenching their power. Most leadership posts in big national and private companies as well as functions in the civil service were given to generals. The lower ranking officers took the civilians posts at provincial and district levels. Many of these generals whose official salaries are equivalent to those earned by manual workers in advanced countries, possess properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars each. Suharto’s own son-in-law, General Prabowo, climbed through the ladder of the ranks very quickly and became the youngest general in Indonesian history after completing his schooling in the Malang Akademi Militer Nasional. He soon took the post of Commander of the elite KOPASSUS (Special Force Command). Most of the officers of this unit were trained in the US and in GB. They are known for their torture methods and cruelties. It is the officers of this unit who kidnapped students during the demonstrations against Suharto. General Wiranto fired him and now is enjoying a life of an international billionaire corporate figure based in Jordan whose business interests stretch from the US to Europe to the Middle East and Malaysia. (Prabowo grew up in Kuala Lumpur where his father, Sumitro, was a political exile during the Sukarno regime).

In such a situation, the posting to rich provinces has become the high point of their career for many military officers. The noble status of the original soldiers has been easily forgotten. It is well known that officers posted to Aceh, Riau, Irian and Kalimantan, returned home as millionaires.

At the same time, the difficult life for ordinary citizens has made joining the army a solution. Young men who cannot make a living any other way find joining the army a way out from hunger.

Add this to the doctrine of the armed forces, to face the enemies from outside and from within, you easily would get a fighting machine that is capable of anything but compassion. The ordinary people easily fall into the category of the enemy within, justifying the killing of non-combatant civilians. Perpetrating “conflicts” in the provinces give opportunity for gaining operational allowances but also lucrative fringe benefits ranging from illegal logging, drugs trade, and protection money from big companies, local and foreign. In fact, in Aceh, local commanders even extorted money from workers returning from Malaysia. During the DOM all households are required to report the presence of  “guests” in the house, even if such a guest would be a son returning from a working stint in Malaysia. The returnees were obliged to report to the army base regularly, some daily, each time having to pay a bribe.

Is it strange then when in 1996 at the same time when the Indonesian government gave an official estimate of the number of “GPK” rebels in the jungle at only 80 armed men, tens of thousands of its best soldiers were unable to beat them? They were too busy with oppressing the ordinary people.

(Picture: This woman of 50 is from the village of Linti, Mutiara, Pidie. She was raped. Her hand was broken and two fingers chopped off for resisting).

IV.2 The Gerakan Acheh Merdeka

On December 4th 1976, Dr. Teungku Hasan Muhammad di Tiro, “redeclared” the Independence of Aceh and formed the Aceh/Sumatra National Liberation Front (ASNLF) popularly known as Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) with its armed wing Angkatan Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (AGAM).

This new revolt received initially ambiguous reactions from the people of Aceh. While agreeing that Aceh should be and would be better off independent, the older generation was weary of war, while the younger generation of matured ages was born bred Indonesians. Worse still, these young people were so negatively indoctrinated about their own people that their feeling of inferiority was so deep that many who went to Malaysia looking for jobs would obtain identity cards by bribery in Medan, giving their birth places anywhere else in Sumatra but Aceh (although it cannot be denied that part of the reason for this is to avoid being intimidated upon their return, because the Indonesian authorities have by then equate being in Malaysia for an Acehnese as being a member of GAM). 

Those are the reasons why initially most disciples of AM were intellectuals. It was not by chance that the line-up of its leadership presented such names as Dr. Husaini Hasan, the late Dr.Mochtar Hasbi, the late Dr. Zuber Mahmud, Ir. Asnawi, Dr. Zaini, and many other academics and students of the University of Syah Kuala of Kutaraja, the Universities of Indonesia of Medan and of Jakarta and the University of Gadjah Mada of Yokyakarta. These were the people who had had the opportunity of being exposed to rational intellectual thinking and not propaganda materials churned out by the Government.

Lacking arms and possibly being not well prepared were among the reasons why AM was not very successful militarily, as compared to the DI/TII that had a battle seasoned and fully armed battalion to serve as the backbone of its guerrilla activities, plus the fact that the villagers who made up the majority of their followers were well experienced in battles against the Dutch and the Japanese. 

However, above all these reasons, the extra-ordinary repressive actions by the TNI/ABRI forces against the innocent villagers, such as the duty to perform night guard that made them unable to work during the day, the obligation to report any guests coming to their homes, extortions, the burning of their houses for the slightest excuses, the raping of their women and children, the disappearances and the discoveries of corpses almost everyday, had made the villagers unwilling, despite their sympathy, to be involved in GAM. 

(Picture: mass grave).

“Okay that (public display of corpses) does happen. But the rebels use terrorist strategies so we are forced to use anti-terrorist strategies”- (Amnesty International 28/7/93/Reuter 25/11/90 – quoting a military officer)

“If there were victims on the civilian sides, that was something that could not be avoided” ”- (former Armed Forces Commander, then Vice-President, General Try Sutrisno quoted by Amnesty International 28/7/93).

The Indonesian government had never respected the agreement it concluded with the Darul Islam, but there is nothing the Acehnese can do to protest as there was no witness to the agreement, it was not even notarised by a simple Notary Public. If the Acehnese should accept a new agreement of that sort again (that is being bandied about by Indonesia now in the form of “wide autonomy”), they will be cheated again. “In fact we have been cheated three times in the past, and now they want to do it for the fourth time. We will be too stupid to fall for it again”. (Haji Shalahuddin Alfata, President of Forum for Struggle and Justice of the Acehnese People (FOPKRA) – Asian Conference on Aceh, Bangkok, 24.07.99). 

V. The Missed Opportunity

V.1 The weakening of GAM

In fact, at one time the GAM struggle had become so weak that according the official estimate of the Indonesian Government, there were only about 80-armed rebels remaining active in Aceh, all the rest had been killed or fled to Malaysia and Sweden. Unfortunately this opportunity was not used by Jakarta to improve the situation, but on the contrary, no longer bothered by any opposition, the Indonesian Army increased its oppression of the Acehnese to such a point that thousands of ordinary people fled the country to Malaysia.

The population transmigration from Java to Aceh had been rushed by using daily Jumbo jet flights. This program that should have been done in a gradual manner taking into account the sensitivity of the host populations was turned by the Suharto regime into a colonisation exercise. It is to the credit of the tolerance of the Acehnese people that the ugly clashes that have occurred in West Kalimantan has not taken place in Aceh despite the very humiliating manner this program has been carried out. The newcomers are subsidised and given all sorts of facilities for many years while the poor locals have to suffer the indignity of being discriminated in their own homeland. Even during the current exodus of villagers of some 200 000 thousand Acehnese villagers and of a few hundred transmigrants, the former out of fear of the military and the latter due to the retaliation of GAM for having served as informers during the DOM period, this discrimination is very visible. The Javanese refugees obtained immediate assistance and those who refused to go back to their villages were relocated to other areas immediately. Only those who chose to return to Java are now stranded at Surabaya port, as back hom they are just more unwanted irritants to the power that be. Humanitarianism is not the basis for their relocation to the outer islands, so returning home is not on the agenda.65

V.2 Suharto’s legacy

The enforcement of DOM was the single most sinister calamity legacy of the Suharto regime, not only for Aceh, but for Indonesia itself, because of the popularisation of the disgust among the Acehnese against the entire structure of the Indonesian Republic not only against its military as in the past.

“Almost every family in the three districts of Aceh where military operations were concentrated was affected. In late July 1999, I met with eleven young people, now in their twenties, whose fathers disappeared in 1990 and 1991. One of them remembers soldiers coming to his house and making him lead them to the rice fields where his father, suspected of giving food to the guerrillas, was working. When they got to the fields, his father wasn't there. As punishment, the soldiers put the boy's hand on the ground and systematically smashed all the fingers on one hand with a rock. He was twelve at the time; his hand remains misshapen today. His father was arrested shortly thereafter and has never been seen since”. (Sidney Jones, Human Rights Watch: “Indonesia, why Aceh is exploding”, New York 27.08.99).

 “KONTRAS, is of the opinion that the acts of violence in Aceh happen because the handling of the Aceh question was by militarist means and not through democratic political ways”. (Nezar Patria/Asian Conference on Aceh, Bangkok 24/07/99).

Indeed, the Indonesian military have lost all interest in its avowed status of “the offspring of the people”. Killing innocent villagers and raping helpless women are no longer something extra-ordinary for them. 

In Indonesia, the military are also referred to as alat negara (tools of the state) or aparat negara (national apparatus). But the dwifungsi status has turned the tools into the masters. For the Republic, the situation has become something as described in the saying: “senjata makan tuan” (the knife that cuts the holder’s arm”) or “pagar makan tanaman” (the fence that devours the plants). In fact, “the knife” has already severed a finger of Indonesia with the loss of East Timor, and the fence that is now devouring the plants in Aceh risks endangering its own existence. The hatred of the Acehnese against the “state apparatus” has become so intense and so widespread that almost everybody supports the demand for referendum proposed and popularised by the students. Last October, all the 550 Last October, all the 550 dayah ulamas (religious school masters with wome 35 000 talibans or students) declared their demand for referendum for Aceh. Even the becak pullers do not want to be left out in declaring their support for referendum. 

Everyone we meet in Aceh has a story to tell about the atrocity of the Indonesian military. A young man of 22 who managed to flee to Malaysia during the DOM period recounted his experience that one day he and a friend was ordered by a military unit on operation in a jungle near his village to carry a corpse of a GAM fighter they had just shot. They used a bamboo pole in the manner of transporting a deer after a successful hunting. But what made him so angry was that upon reaching the village, he and his friends were told to gather the villagers. The corpses were put on show and the commander of the unit put his foot on the head of the corpse telling the villagers: “This is an Acehnese head, you want to be like this?” The villagers were allowed to bury the corpses only the next day after much pleading by the imam of the village. For pious Muslims like most Acehnese villagers, mistreating the dead is much  worse than mistreating a living person. The obligation to bury the dead properly is a fardhu kifayah in Islam, a social obligation, that if no one in the community performs it, the whole community is responsible for the sin. 

(Picture: disfigured for life after being tortured with all sorts of tricks that included the use of electric shock.

(Picture: the Kopassus electric chair).

V.3 The women

In discussing Aceh one cannot escape from the very important role played by its women. All through out its history the women of Aceh have stood side by side, in fact quite often in front of their men, especially in difficult time. Aceh has known a naval admiral, Malahayati probably the only one in the world, leading an armada of six ships that defeated a Portuguese intrusion in the Straits of Malacca. Tjut Nyak Dhien, recognised even by Indonesia as one of its national heroin, led the war against the Dutch until old age and blind. She was the wife of another national hero, Teuku Omar Johan Pahlawan, when he was killed, she married his deputy and pushed him to lead the struggle. When her second husband was also killed in battle, she took over the command of the Acehnese army herself. Her adjutant could not stand to see the old blind woman suffering and arranged with the Dutch to have her hospitalised in Kutaraja that had already been captured by the Dutch. The colonial government understood very well her influence on the spirit of the Acehnese, reneged on the promise and exiled her to Western Java where she died.

The Acehnese women stand as the anchor of the Acehnese society. They are the proud mothers and sisters who are behind many male bravery in Aceh. Many Acehnese folklore testify to this.

(Pictures of heroine's)

V.4 After the fall of Suharto

The toppling by students of the Suharto regime gave the Acehnese a new impetus to seek justice. Many of them in fact were quite ready to forgive and forget the atrocities that had been inflicted on them. The fact is the whole population was wary and tired of the whole thing; they wanted to start their life a new. What happened in Jakarta gave them hope that possibly finally justice would come to the Veranda of Mecca. The pledges of Habibie that he made when he visited Acheh in early 1999 soothed somewhat their hurt feeling, even the half-hearted apology offered by General Wiranto (“if excesses had been done by his troops”) was accepted in good grace.

But all the pledges proved to be no more than empty promises, designed to play for time for the new government to stabilise itself. Since August 1998, ABRI that has again taken the title of TNI, announced the lifting of DOM and the withdrawal of KOPASSUS from Aceh, several major massacres have taken place. The Indonesian Army came back with vengeance, with its old game, with its usual modus operandi of going after villagers whenever they got bloodied by their enemy. They panicked very often and shot at people blindly for such things as having a tyre of their truck blow, or for hearing the echo of their own gun fires that they make whenever they are passing areas that scare them such as a narrow bridge or a sharp mountain road bend. 

The leaders in Jakarta, if ever did they want to settle the Acehnese problem peacefully, have missed the boat. Achenese have passed the point of no return in their relationship with Indonesia. The demand for referendum has gained such popular dimension that there is no turning back to the old status quo. 

But then again, it is not necessary for Indonesia to take this demand for referendum and equalise it a-priori as a demand for independence. They could still make the best of it by trying to win once and forever the heart and mind of the Acehnese,  by being truthful, just and above all civilised.

They should take the lesson of East Timor that massacres and destructions are counter productive and have disastrous consequences for Indonesia. They should for once try the peaceful, democratic, fair and civilised way. Even if they should lose they would still gain the respect of the world community and preserve whatever is left of the Republic that is worth preserving.

V. 5 The post DOM major massacres

Ø   The Ramadhan or 3rd January 1999 incident: 11 civilians killed, 32 hospitalised and tens others injured.

The holy month of Ramadhan doesn’t seem to hold any significant to the Indonesian army.

As has been mentioned earlier, the lifting of DOM is just a military strategy, as soon the so-called Operasi Satgas Wibawa 99 ABRI and then the now well-known PPRM replaced it.

General Wiranto explained to 21 Acehnese community leaders in Jakarta on 5/01/99: “The Operasi Satgas Wibawa 99 launched a few days ago is not a military operation, it is a Kambtibmas (acronym for National Security and Social Order) operation within the framework of Law and Order restoration and the re-establishment of safe feeling in the society”

This operation signaled the curtain-down for ABRI before it changed its cloth back to TNI.

This operation that was focused around Lhok Seumawe started at 7 am on January 2nd 1999, aimed at freeing a Marine major Edi Suyanto and three other soldiers of the Kodim O103 who were purportedly kidnapped by an AGAM unit led by Ahmad Kandang.According to the TNI, Ahmad Kandang is a fierce commander of AGAM. But Kandang villagers dispute this, claiming that he is just a pious young man who always tell villagers, especially youngsters not to neglect their daily prayers. He often gives lectures and intersperses his religious talks with GAM propaganda. Soon he became very popular, with people from near and far coming to hear him. During one of his talks to commemorate the Nuzulul Qur’an, thousands of people came, those from other villages rented tens of buses and truck.

The operation launched by the military is called “sweeping”. It is not clear why an English word is used, but in such an operation, an area is blockaded, all traffic stopped and the identity of everyone is checked.

During this particular sweeping the involvement of various units of the army and the police that were armed to the teeth and with a helicopter hovering above and the sound of shooting echoing here and there, had created a warlike situation that caused tension among the population not long after the euphoria of the lifting of DOM.

Community leaders were very annoyed by the operation that was launched in the middle of the public gathering and centralized in the villages of Kandang and Paloh (Kecamatan of Muara Dua), Buloh Blang Ara and Simpang Kramat (Kecamatan of Kuta Makmur) and Pusong (Banda Sakti). 

The next day after the first day of the sweeping, 9 villagers were killed and 31 injured. Among the dead was a teenaged girl from the village of Kandang. Among the wounded by shooting were M. Nadir, 1 year old, Fitriana, 9, and Mishahuddin, 15, and also two boys of 16, 9 aged between 17 and 19, and 3 aged 20. Siti Aminah, 60 from the village of Pusong Lama who wanted to go marketing for the fasting month, was shot at her stomach and died a few hours after being brought to hospital.

The chief of the local police confirmed that there was no armed contact with the “GPK” during the operation. The operational chief of Korem 011/Liliwangsa, Lt. Col. Drs. Iskandar Hasan, said that the operation was more of a social disciplinary action in order to seek the criminals in the operational areas and not for the purpose of chasing AGAM fighters. 

(Picture : Jumaidi Husaini, 6 ½ year old, from Alue Ie Mirah village, East Aceh, was shot by TNO soldiers while playing in front of his house).

So it is quite clear that the operation was intended to teach the community a lesson in order for them to become more “disciplined”. The community disciplinary action turned out to be a real violent oppressive measure taken against the entire community; this has made the latter very angry and they showed their anger by demonstrating, during which more than a dozen government buildings were torched. 

At the hospital nurses complained of running out of medicine to treat so many injured people, among them a 13 year-old boy that required surgery; the hospital was not able to save him.

The Commander of the 011 Liliwangsa regiment, Infantry Col. Drs. Jhonny Wahab, insisted that the operation was a routine law enforcement exercise. Community leader disputed this contention and accused the military of having returned to their old ways of retaliating against the ordinary people after being beaten by AGAM fighters.

 Meanwhile, the remains of the three members of the military kidnapped in the incident that was later to be known as the Lhok Nibong Incident, were discovered by villagers, one floating in the Arakunoe river, the other two found in the bushes nearby.

Col. Jhonny Wahab stressed that the operation will continue: 

“this operation will have the opportunity to be stopped if and when members of the community become brave enough to fight off the GAM gang and at the same time resisting from having their mind being influenced them”.  (Serambi, 6/1/99). 

This statement proves beyond doubt the community’s accusation that ABRI want the ordinary people to do their job for them, the job that they have failed to perform: to crush AGAM.

Jhonny Wahab confirms that 150 members of the public are still detained. About the rumors that there have been many ABRI casualties, he stressed: “Not a single ABRI soldier was wounded or killed”. 

“The situation in Aceh cannot be considered on a case by case basis, but overall, since the imposition of DOM. As such, KONTRAS demands that ABRI carries out investigations immediately on the atrocities committed by its troops and bring those responsible to court. The Operasi Wibawa 99 has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in several areas in North and East Aceh, and has provided the opportunity for the spread of violence and human rights violations. This condition has in fact opened up old wounds in Aceh… KONTRAS sees what is happening in Aceh as a string of cases that confront the people against the armed forces. The reality of this conflict is evident from the characteristics of the causes of the incidents that have no fundamental elements that may point to a horizontal conflict among members of the public. (Munir SH. Coordinator of the Working Committee of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS/Press Conference, Jakarta 5/1/99). 

 Ø   The Kuta Blang Operation and the KNPI Building Mass Torture Incident: 4 beaten to death and 23 hospitalised

The brutality of this incident was such that the Korem (regimental) commander himself who is known for always protecting his men by covering up their excesses, ran out of excuses and offered an apology.

At dawn of 9/1/99, a team of Satgas Wibawa 99 comprising various units of TNI and the police, led by Police Lt.Col. Drs. Iskandar Hasan launched a quick sweeping of the village of Meunasah Blang, Kemukiman Kandang, Kecamatan Muara Dua, Kabupaten Aceh Utara. 40 young men suspected followers of Ahmad Kandang were arrested. The 40 were brought to Lhok Seumawe and detained in a building housing the local chapter of the Indonesian National Youth Council (KNPI). 

In the evening of 9/1, 50 soldiers from various units visited the building; some of them in uniforms, some others were not. The policemen on duty to guard the prisoners were not able to prevent their forced entry into the building but did not call for reinforcement. The fierce visitors then told the detainees to crawl around on the cement floor of the hall while being questioned, beaten and kicked. When they finished, 4 were dead, 23 hospitalised with 2 in coma, 13 others with light injuries transferred to the local police lock-up.

Regimental commander Jhony Wahab in his statement expressed his regret saying that the men have spoilt the reputation of the Operasi Satgas Wibawa ’99. He confirmed that those 50 men were ABRI soldiers from the SSK DenRudal 001 (the unit guarding the nearby guided missiles depot), the 131/YS Infantry Battalion, the Korem 011/Liliwangsa, and the Kodim 102/North Aceh.

Admitting the failure of the newly formed Operasi Satgas Wibawa 99, Jhony Wahab said: “The prisoners were brought-in in good condition, but were badly treated here. Besides, the 50 attackers were against 40 detainees, so we can imagine what had happened. I feel really devastated, if the people of Kandang would accept my visit, I would like to go to the grieving families’ houses to kiss the hands of the parents of the victims and asked for apology for the behaviour of the ABRI men” (Serambi, 11/05/99).

The ages of most of the 40 detained range between 18 t0 30, only a few are in the forties. Autopsies performed on the death showed extra-ordinary cruelty of the beating. Some had their faces beaten literally to a pulp and unrecognizable. Almost all of the injured were with broken bones and swelling all over their bodies.

(Picture: Abd. Rahman, from the village of Ceumeucot, Kuta Makmur, Aceh Utara, one of the victim of torture in the Gedung KNPI incident (also known as the Operasi Wibawa 99 incident). His left eye was broken and both ears became deaf. Many are still in coma at the same clinic in Lhok Seumawe).

During the trial of the mastermind of the attack at a military court in Lhok Seumawe, Infantry Major Bayu Najib of the Kasdim 0103 North Aceh, an eye witness, Sargeant Major P.Lubis said the number of soldiers involved exceeded 100, disputing the number given by Jhony Wahab. He said the soldiers attacked and entered the building at 11.30 in the morning and only left at 7 pm. The beating was done with electric cable and kicking with military boots. Bayu Najib was sentenced to 6 years jail and made to pay court cost of Rp.6.500 (four dollars). The four soldiers were each given 3 years. So far these are the only ones brought to court, but the military authorities said 23 others may be charged.

Naturally, the light sentences for the deliberate murder of 4 persons and gravely injuring so many others do not improve the confidence of the Acehnese people on the seriousness of the Indonesian Government in settling the Aceh conflict peacefully. The perpetrators of the brutal act were charged only for not wearing uniforms and for indiscipline and not for multiple murders, not even for rioting. Consequently, the Acehnese have become more and more convinced that Indonesian government is not seriously interested in solving the conflict peacefully.

Ø      The Idi Cut incident.

So numerous are the massacres in Aceh that the media have developed a system in naming them. The names have to be precise because so many took place within a short distance in time and in place from one another. Quite often they are interrelated, one being the cause of the other. But all have one thing in common: the victims were all civilians and the murderers were soldiers or policemen.

In this Idi Cut incident that took place at dawn of 3rd February 1999, although the number has not been determined exactly, only 1 dead and 3 injured according to the military authorities, dozens killed and hundreds injured according to the villagers, the incident is very much in the mind of the people for the uncivilised behaviour of the perpetrators. The big gap between the figures offered by the military and those given by the public demonstrate the military’s attempt to always belittle the consequences of their actions, despite solid proves like corpses staring in their face and the clinics overflowing with the injured.

In the afternoon of 2/2/99, Jamaluddin, 18, from the village of Kuta Binjai, Kecamatan Julok, joined the people from his village to go to the mosque of Meunasah Blang, about 4 km from the junction of Kuala Idi Cut to hear a lecture. Although the speaker spoke about Aceh Merdeka, the public lecture went without any incident. At midnight, most of the villagers had dispersed. But at 1 am, 7 vehicles transporting people from other villages passed on the way home in front of the Koramil Hq. The soldiers from the base threw rocks at the buses that were obligatorily driven at dead slow speed (oil drums are placed on the road in front of every military base to slow traffic to 5 km/h).  Frightened passengers alighted from the bus but they were shot at. Some fell to the ground other ran helter-skelter. At light break, the 7 vehicles consisting of 2 cars and 5 minibuses were found abandoned in front of the military Hq., the walls facing the military base riddled with bullet holes. The body of Jamaludin was found there and that was the only casualty that the military authorities acknowledged. 

A week later, the incident that was by then had taken the name of Peristiwa Idi Cut, still remained a mystery. What is clear is that on 6/2/99, the daily WASPADA reported 7 bodies were found, 6 fished from the muddy bottom of the river Arakunoe. According to this daily that published in Medan, dozens of villagers who had chartered the 5 minibuses were missing. In fact another bus was missing with its driver and passengers.

“I consider this shooting of civilians as uncivilised and very extra-ordinary. Normally people through rubbish into a river, but here we have human corpses” prof. Dr. Syamsuddin Mahmud, Governor of Aceh. (Pictures of Arakunoe corpses).

Ø      19-20 April: 2 killed, 35 injured and 300 arrested during a clash between high-school students and the army.

In this incident a 7 year-old child, Saprizal, also received a bullet when high schools students in Lhok Seumawe demonstrated to demand the release of 24 of their friends arrested earlier by police for painting referendum slogans on building walls in the town.

Ø      The Dewantara Indicent: 52 shoot dead for no reason whatsoever

This incident has been known under several titles, such as “Peristiwa Simpang KKA” (The KKA junction incident, named after the junction near the Kertas Kraft Aceh paper mill near Lhok Seumawe), “Peristiwa Krueng Geukueh”(named after the river and village), “Peristiwa Pembantaian Dewantara” (the Dewantara Slaughter Incident, after the name of the Kecamatan). There is a good reason for these different titles: so many journalists from the written and electronic media, local and foreign, covered this incident. 

On May 3rd 1999, an ABRI unit open fires on thousands of people who were demonstrating peacefully against an earlier shooting incident (30th April) at Cot Murong, a village also at Dewantara, 12 km West of the petro-town of Lhok Seumawe, the capital of North Aceh. 

(Picture: The Dewantara incident, note the children among the dead).

The incident starts when people preparing the evening religious lecture at a local field saw a man in civilian clothing but carrying a gun and a walkie-talkie, later identified as a sergeant from the nearby guided missiles base DenRudal.  He was questioned by the organisers and then told to get lost. The Army later claimed he was missing and launched a massive search operation involving various units including the police paramilitary unit BRIMOB, which is known for its brutality. During the two-day operation, at least 12 persons were arrested and they were so badly beaten-up that they required hospitalisation. The villagers then sent a delegation to the local TNI commander asking him to stop his troops from harassing them. He assured the villagers that what had happened wouldn’t be repeated.

However, on that fateful day of 3rd May a truck-load of soldiers entered the Cot Murong and Lancang Barat villages, but thousands of people had then gathered and chased them out, and the angry villagers then marched to the Korem 011 regimental headquarters to confront its commander of the pledge he had given them the day before. At noon, the demonstrators reached the junction of Kertas Kraft Aceh, which is near the headquarters. 

(Picture: is this 14-year-old boy, one of the many young victims of the shooting, a provocateur mentioned by the Army?). 

The villagers stopped there and sent a five-member delegation to see the commander. While the dialogue was in progress, more and more soldiers arrived to surround the villagers who became angrier every second. It was reported that some of them had thrown rocks towards the front building of the Korem 011 hearquarters and two motorcycles were put on fire. Then two truckload of soldiers from the Arhanud guided missiles base guarded by the DenRudal unit came from behind and starting shooting into the crowd. 

(Picture: soldiers behind truck and demonstrators lying injured or dead in the street/Jakarta Post 11/05).

A video clip of a TV station clearly shows soldiers in kneeling position shooting into the crowd that ran helter-skelter. Among the dead was a 14 year old boy with bullets penetrating from his buttock and coming out through his chest, clearly denoting that he was flat on his stomach when he was shot from a lower position of the soldier like when kneeling or crawling.  

The slaughter went intermittently for half an hour that showed the incident to be a deliberate and planned action by the Den Rudal unit. However, the military authorities defended the operation, without offering any evidence whatsoever, the it was a self-defence action because the guided missiles base was threatened and that if it exploded it would destroy the entire populated areas around it. The local TNI commander claimed that only 19 persons were killed. But video clips aired on Indonesian TV as well as abroad clearly showed otherwise.

In a reply to a journalist of a private TV station in Jakarta, General Wiranto, then Minister of Defence and Chief of the Armed Forces said: “It is not logical for the apparatus of the Republic to oppress the people of Aceh because they have been sent there to protect them”. The TV station presented the statement with Wiranto on a corner box while the main screen showed his soldiers chasing and shooting fleeing men, women and children. Indeed. Indeed, it is not very logical. To think about it, it is quite not logical also for a unit assigned to guard a guided missiles base should come out to town and shoot at people. The military authorities claimed the soldiers used rubber bullets. Why would such a unit be armed with rubber bullets normally used by the police against rioters? Any way, bullets recovered on the streets by members of the public belie the commander’s statement.

(Picture: bullets)

Once again the attitude of the military authorities is to immediately coming to the defence of their men without  first investigating. This strengthens the belief that the whole thing was planned and ordered by higher authorities and not the result of some out of control units.

While it is not uncommon of course for some military units to run out of control, such incidents put the Indonesian military among the worst in the world in the matter of professionalism. 

The Mai Lai incident that took place during the Vietnamese war for example was also a cold-blooded massacre. But the US government took stern action against the perpetrators of the slaughter when it was discovered. It is not so with ABRI/TNI, where all excesses performed by soldiers against civilians get standby support and protection by the higher-up, all the way to Jakarta.

(Picture: Protecting the people?)

After this Dewantara incidents corpses were also recovered in the river. These corpses were put in sacks that were weighted with rocks, what seems to be a new set of weapons adopted by the guided missiles guard unit as happened in the earlier Idi Cut incident. The Indonesian military that has sophisticated diving equipment in their possession would not participate in the search of the corpses, if they did, probably a lot more than those fished out by the villagers using bamboo poles would have been recovered. 


Presented hereunder are some comments on what happened in the bloody incident specially and the attitude of the Indonesian military in general.

·         Kontras said in an official statement issued in Jakarta that its representatives at the location of the incident have identified 65 victims killed in the incident.

·         A spokeswoman of PMI, the Indonesian Red Cross at Lhok Seumawe said that apart from the hundreds that were treated at its clinics, many other injured, especially villagers, did not dare come to seek treatment. Search teams of PMI sent to the surrounding villages found 44 injured by bullets and 25 by heavy beating.

·         “I see a pattern of provocations in Aceh. After the lifting of the DOM the military role was not reduced, although some of the troops were withdrawn. In fact we have a number of atrocities, culminating in what happened on 3rd May at Dewantara. It was reported that 41 people were killed. My guess is the actual death toll of that incident was far far higher. My own experience in atrocities and massacres that have happened in many places including also in East Timor is that the official figures, I don’t take the government’s but the NGO’s figures, are also an understatement of the actual death toll. We had a terrible atrocity in Aceh and atrocities that have been widely reported. We even had video shots of the killings taking place, it reminded me very much of Santa Cruz in East Timor in 1991 when we had video shots of what was happening, and that of course was what put East Timor on the international agenda, because everybody saw what was happening. The same thing happens really in Dewantara, but for the reasons that we have to try to understand, it did not made an international issue. However hard we try, it is still amongst us, we know about this, but internationally it is still not yet known. This is what we are trying to achieve now, to make atrocities like this an international issue”. (Carmel Budiardjo at the Asian Conference on Aceh, Bangkok July 24 1999).

·         “Everyday four, five civilians are killed in Aceh. Some corpses are buried, some are left to rot” – (Noer Nikmat, Aceh Governor’s delegate chief, Asian Conference on Aceh, Bangkok 24.07.99)

·         “The violent actions of the military in Aceh are the results of the way the Acehnese conflict has been handled by the Central Government, which has adopted a militaristic means and not through democratic political way” - Nezar Patria, KONTRAS, “Asian Conference on Aceh”, Bangkok 24.07.99.

(Picture: Sudirman Abdul Latif)

“I think the parties that are most responsible for all these are Habibie and ABRI. Habibie who has come to Aceh sometime ago said in front of thousands of Acehnese people, and in the name of God, in the name of morality and in the name of humanity, that he would stop the State violence against the Acehnese people, he would stop the military oppressive acts against the Acehnese people, he would stop all the human rights violations, and he would order investigations into such violations. In reality all these are lies of Habibie, lies of the Indonesian Government in order to calm down the situation in Aceh. In such a situation, today the students have come up with a proposal for solution that we feel most suitable, that should be acceptable to all parties, that is more realistic, that is more democratic: Referendum.  Besides continuing the struggle for referendum to be held in Aceh, we students are being made very busy these with humanitarian works to help the people who are continuously being harassed by the military that they have to flee their homes to find refuge in mosques and open spaces. We are trying to help the people who are continuously being oppressed by the Government. We do all these facing all the risks to ourselves. Some of our friends have been beaten up badly some detained. All such violence cannot but strengthen our belief that the root of the problem in Aceh is the military. Consequently, all the civilian and democratic forces in Aceh are trying to have the military pack their bags and leave Aceh. The political policy that systematically and continuously increases the presence of soldiers in Aceh must be stopped”. Aguswandi/SMUR (Students Solidarity for Reform/Asian Conference on Aceh, Bangkok 24th July 1999).

(Photo: Searching corpses in a locked house that had been riddled with bullers earlier by TNI.)

The emergence of new problems:

“The internally displaced persons”

 The Dewantara Massacre was not just that in itself it represents an extra-ordinarily brutal abuse of human rights by the Indonesian military, but also that it has caused heavy “collateral damage”, to use a military euphemism, in the Acehnese community. The fear of the military is so acute after the incident that is has started a grave new problem, the emergence of the “internally displaced persons” to use another current euphemism to describe the people forced to flee from their homes but not far enough into crossing the national frontier and gain the status of refugees. This terminology frees such agency as the UNHCR from dealing with this problem, because they are not refugees, they are internally displaced persons. Never mind the fact that at the peak of the problem last August, 200 000 Acehnese, 5% of the entire population, are living in mosques and open spaces. Even as early as July the very conservative number, one that is officially registered by such agency as the Red Cross, had already reached 42 000, and this not for the entire population of Aceh but only for 3 districts only, the districts that the Indonesian military called rawan, dangerous: North, East and Pidie, with a total population of about 1.5 million. Mr. Renée Van Rooyen, the Jakarta based Regional High Commissioner of the UN for Refugees has acknowledged this high number of refugees: “As far as the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the region is concerned, as as far as the UN possible involvement, particularly the UNHCR’s involvement in the displaced persons is concerned, we do not have an automatic mandate to look after internally displaced persons. It is under particular circumstances, and in particular situations possible, the the Office of the High Commissioner being requested by the Secretary General or by a resolution of the General Assembly to provide is good offices in situations of internally displaced persons and normally when that is the case there is also a request from the government of that country concerned, in the particular case of Indonesia that would mean the Government of Indonesia. I know from various discussions with a variety of people in the Government who feel that an involvement of an international agency, to provide relief and to some extent to provide protection to people who are being displaced as a result of the conflict, is being discussed and I am aware of these discussions and I am involved to some extent in these discussions. For the time being there is no clear decision one way or the other and it is therefore, except for the presence of the ICRC which has a very small presence at Lhok Seumawe, there is other international agency involved in providing relief to the displaced persons in Aceh. It is of course from my perspective of very great concern THAT TOO MANY PEOPLE ARE BEING DISPLACED, the reasons why they are being displaced are disputed, to say the least, I am not in a position, I have been in Indonesia only a few months, and more over as a national of the Netherlands I would tend to be rather cautious when I talk about Aceh because of conflicts of the Netherlands and Aceh have historical relationship I think, therefore I tend to be rather modest but it does concern me and there are increasing number of displaced persons in Aceh by all accounts there are at least 42 000 and possibly many more of which we do not know. What concerns me is the fact that there is random violence against the educational institutions, lots of schools in recent weeks according to my information, have been burnt and thousands of school children are affected, many people have left their villages, are presently sheltered in religious institutions or in other places under very often difficult circumstances, to say the least. Clearly this is not a situation that can last, that can continue, dialogue is the way out, I am convinced that this conflict can only be resolved through dialogues and through discussions, open, from all sides”. (Asian Conference on Aceh, Bangkok, 24/07/99)

(Picture: One of the hundreds of refugee camps)

General Wiranto’s response

The response to this blatant abused of human rights by soldiers of ABRI received typical response from the power that be: more troops. General Wiranto announced in Jakarta the day after the Dewantara Slaughter, that he was sending more troops under the name of Pasukan Penindak Rusuh Massa, PPRM (Mass Riots Repression Corps). This unit comprises several specialised military forces such as KOPASSUS, the special army intelligent command that was responsible for hundreds of mass graves in Aceh during the DOM, the Marines and the police, including its BRIMOB paramilitary unit. Thus the lifting of DOM and the withdrawal of Kopassus in December 1998 was indeed a very brief tactical measure designed to replaced the tired and badly demoralised troops with fresh new units. Even the separation of the police from the military with the theoretical return of ABRI to its original TNI format, was nothing but that, theoretical. It comes now the question: who orders the Dewantara slaughter? In the absence of any action taken against the perpetrators, the answer is quite evident.

“Investigations are not necessary”

The Chief of the Indonesian armed forces, General Wiranto said categorically in Parliament that investigations on the excesses committed by the military are not necessary as such investigations, if allowed, would open the floodgate for other demands to investigate other acts of violence and excesses committed by the armed forces during the rule of the Orde Baru of former President Suharto.

In a stranger indirect admission of guilt, Syarwan Hamid, Minister of Home Affairs in Habibie’s government, said: “It is not fair to bring to court all those involved in human rights abuse in Aceh”. During the period of DOM he served as Commander of the Korem 011/Liliwangsa that has the worse reputation in Aceh and in whose territory large mass graves have been discovered, such as the Bukit Seuntang, Bukit Tengkorak, and Cot Panglima.

“So then what was the response of the TNI? They sent more troops in. One would have thought that they withdraw troops because the troops were the ones who provoked these incidents, but instead of withdrawing troops they sent in more troops. So they sent troops as PPRM, Pasukan Peninidak Rusuh Massa, this is a very terrifying kind of a name. It is not anti riots police, it is much worse than that  and I try to translate it into Special Force for Mass Revolts; I think that’s what it is, very very frightening.  So what’s going on in Aceh that they had to send troops of this kind, the very name itself indicate that they believe that Aceh is in a state of major revolt. And by sending the troops in, they create the revolt. It is so perpetuating. This is the difficulty we have. So, sending the troops in doesn’t calm things down, it only exacerbates it, probably escalates the problem. These troops are, we are told, led by police, that may be true, I don’t know exactly what the composition of the PPRM is, they may be largely police, BRIMOB, of course we know that BRIMOB are very heavily military police force. We believe also the KOPASSUS is there within this force. And now of course we know, the situation in Aceh is that whenever PPRM appears the villagers flee. Because they are in a state of trauma, in a state of very deep trauma. The very sight of heavily armed Indonesian police result in everybody fleeing. So we have a new situation in Aceh, not only these human rights violations, these atrocities, killings in the past, killings that have not been investigated, during DOM, we now have ten of thousands of people, fleeing from their villages. So another problem crops up, which is caused by the military, as the Governor was trying to point out to Habibie.  I have during the past few months received so many messages from people in Aceh, please do something to help what we have to call the “internally displaced people”...(Carmel Budiardjo/TAPOL, London at the “Asian Conference on Acheh”, Bangkok, 24/07/99).

Picture: Collecting the corpses

Meanwhile, the massacres continue

The Beutong Ateuh Slaughter: 
Teungku Bantaqiah and 70 disciples executed.

DOM has been lifted, so was the short-lived WIBAWA 99. But as massacres go, PPRM can hold its own very well. In fact, if during DOM Aceh was closed to international eyes, PPKM carries out its slaughters in full view of the world.

Teungku Bantaqiah was a religious teacher. Some consider him to be rather eccentric. He once declared war against the Republic of Indonesia for refusing to adhere to Islamic tenets. But the declaration was just that, he didn’t have a single gun, he didn’t go into hiding or do operations. He just preached at his schools. He said his students were his army. He didn’t have any connection with GAM. He was then arrested and jailed for treason at the Tanjung Gusta Prison in Medan. He was amnestied on the occasion of Habibie’s visit to Aceh in December 1998. He then went deep into the interior of South Aceh and established a religious school there. Soon he became quite successful with some 200 students coming from all over Aceh. 

On July 23rd 1999, 17 trucks of soldiers attacked his settlement at the Gunung Singgah Mata, Beutong Ateuh. Result: 71 people, including Bantaqiah and two sons were killed.

The attack was under a pretext that that Bantaqiah has a cache of 100 firearms and he also has a ganja (hashish) farm. On arrival the soldiers lined up the students and asked them the where about of Bantaqiah. When no answer was given, they beat up his two sons, upon which Bantaqiah came out of hiding and was immediately shot, followed by the gunning of 30 others. The 31 corpses were buried in a shallow grave nearby. Then they dug up the floor of the mosque searching the guns, none was discovered. They then left taking 20 people in two trucks. Two days later villagers discovered their remains in the ravine some distance away.

“I am prepared to be shot if there was any gun in this school complex”. Said Teungku Ach, when he was threatened to be shot if he refused to revealed where the 100 guns were. He was one of several villagers of Beutong who survived the “Bloody Friday Slaughter”, as a daily in Aceh called it. 

(Picture: Villagers digging one of the two mass graves on 29/7/99.)

(Picture: Acehnese students demonstrating in front of the Mindef in Jakarta, protesting the Beutong massacre.)

Some related comments:

Eye witnesses told the story of the mass execution carried out by the “shadowy unit” of the 328 Battalion of Kostrad (The Army’s Strategic Command, based in Jakarta that was under Suharto’s command when he launched the coup d’Etat against Sukarno), operating in Aceh under Korem 011 Liliwangsa”. (BBC-TV London 26/07/99)

“As far as I know there is no Kosrad unit sent to Aceh. The units involved were from Korem 011 and 012 under the command of Infantry Colonel Sudjono”. (Korem 011 Commander).

“According to official sources, more than 100 TNI soldiers launched the operation from Takengon (capital of Central Aceh) under the command of Intelligent Chief of Korem 011, Lt. Col. Sudjono, strengthened by a platoon of Kostrad. (Waspada 27.07.99).

 “The victims were lined up in front of Teungku Bantaqiah’s house and were ordered to put their hands on their heads before being shot. Teungku Bantaqiah died on the spot together with 30 of his followers, the rest were taken away in two trucks” (Abdullah Saleh, Bantaqiah’s cousin, who is also the branch head of the Islamic Parti PPP (26.07.99). 

 “If it is true that they were lined-up and then executed, that is regrettable” – Syamsuddin Mahmud, Governor of Aceh (27/07/99).

“TNI has never carry out any violence against the Acehnese people…” (General Wiranto refuting Aceh Governor’s report to Habibie that his soldiers were scaring the people and causing them to flee their villages.

 “If not, it will prove that the Government (military) was deliberately turning Aceh into a shooting range” – Ghazali Abbas Adan, head of Human Rights Commission formed by Jakarta after students pressure, asking General Wiranto “not to continue playing with words that he would act against his troops”.

7 loggers killed, 7 other missing

This incident that took place on 7th August 99 did not make much wave because the number of people involved is considered small in Aceh massacre standard; that is why the media did not give it a special name.

A mixed TNI/Police unit on its way back to Bireuen (North Aceh) from a  base in Takenong (Central Aceh), through a winding and dangerous narrow mountain roads had carried out the attack. The timber men were fast asleep in their tents at Krueng Tuan, Nisam, North Aceh, when it happened, as it was only 5 am.

One of the men, Abdullah, who managed to run away although he was badly wounded told daily WASPADA at the clinic where he was treated: “We woke up from our sleep when we heard the sound of shooting, initially we thought we were attacked by the GAM fighters, but from their uniforms and the military trucks we soon found out that the attackers were TNI soldiers and the police”. Two of his tent mates died instantly, he managed to jump into a ravine although his foot was hit and the soldiers continued to shoot at him. After finishing with his tent, the attackers went to attack the other camp that was located not far from his.

People from a nearby village found out about the killing only three hours later when some of them went to the site looking as usual for firewood and found Abdullah. According to Abdullah, the villagers carried him for two km before reaching the village clinic.

The local military commander, Lt. Col. Suyanto admitted that there was an attack on the loggers but he said only 2 were killed. He said the attack was not carried out by his men, but by another unit that he did not know. But according to villagers, the attackers were a PPRM unit that came in several trucks and wore uniforms. The villagers then went to the destroyed camps and found 4 bodies in a shallow grave. The corpses were not longer recognisable because the camp was attack with hand grenades. As the remains were so badly smashed up, some of the bodies in small pieces, the villagers decided not to bring them back to the village but to rebury there after having performed the religious rites.

Too many to be listed

The problem with trying to enumerate the massacres by the Indonesian armed forces in Aceh is that there are too many, and the process is continuous. The book “Aceh Bersimbah Darah” by Al-Chaidar, Sayed Mudhahar Ahmad dan Yarmen Dinamika, mentioned at the beginning of this writing has been on sale widely in Indonesia and in other Malay speaking countries in South East Asia. It should have shocked any government to action, at least to investigate. Except for having helped unite Acehnese in their sorrrow, this extra-ordinary piece of documentation, especially if considered that it was prepared and written before the lifting of DOM, has produced nothing concrete in Indonesia or in any other neighbouring countries where this book has been widely read. It seems there is a sort of disbelief, how could Muslim Indonesia do such a thing? While this little booklet does not pretend to better “Bersimbah Darah”, the fact that it is accompanied by pictures (a Malay version has been published earlier), may help a little bit more, hopefully. 

The lack of any positive reaction on the part of the Indonesian government even after such revelation, which was followed by many others later, has only emboldened the soldiers, knowing full well that they can do as they please with impunity. Even confirmation by such body as the “Komisi Independen Pengusutan Tindak Kekerasan di Aceh (Independent Commission for Investigation of Violent Acts in Aceh) hasn’t moved Jakarta to do anything. On the Beutong Ateuh massacre the head of this Commission, H. Amran Zamzami, has this to say: “The Beutong Ateuh case in the West Aceh Kabupaten is clearly a massacre carried out by members of TNI. This case is not only a national case but also international, as such, this Commission, formed by the Government under the Presidential Decision Keppres No. 38/1999, after having carried out a thorough investigation on 18/9/99 on the killing of Tgk Bantakiah and his followers on 23rd July 1999 at the village of Blang Meurandeh, Beutong Ateuh, concludes that this represents the biggest mass slaughter carried out by TNI troops in Aceh during the last ten years, whereby 57 persons were executed, 38 of them buried in two mass graves, one of which contains 7 bodies including that of Tgk Bantakiah and the other grave contains 31 bodies of his students, while 19 corpses were found along the road to Takengon”.

This official report of the Commission differs only slightly from the press report that has been presented earlier above. 


At the end of August 99, 7 Ministers came visiting to Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh, which this writer prefers to call by its original name Kutaraja. They brought with them the approval of a new budget for the Province that was bigger than requested by the Governor, and the promise that every refugee who returns home would be given compensation. This attitude describes best not only the ignorance of the Indonesian leadership of the feeling of the Acehnese but also their simplistic mind. This reminds this writer of a joke that was widely circulated when Suharto came visiting to Aceh. Before landing in a helicopter, seeing from above the mass of people already gathered by the military to welcome his entourage, he asked his son Bambang what he should give to make them happy. “Just throw down those apples in the box, that will make them happy, I don’t think those villagers ever set eyes on this fruit, let alone taste it”. His daughter Tutut protested, saying it was a stupid idea as the apples might hit them and they would be very angry and riot. “You know how fierce and unreasonable these Acehnese are”, she said and suggested that they threw down some money instead. “Every body loves money”, she said. But his youngest son Tommy said the idea was as stupid as Bambang’s. “They will kill each other and as always we will be blamed. Besides, do you think the soldiers won’t intervene and take the money for themselves?” Exasperated Suharto asked a reporter who was part of the presidential entourage. “I was told you are orang kita Aceh, (“our Acehnese people”, orang kita is a very commonly used condescending term Acehnese have come to detest) what do you think? What will make those folk below happy?” The reporter hesitantly replied: “There is indeed something you can throw out to make them very, very happy” –“and what’s is it?” asked Suharto impatiently as the helicopter was about to land. “your children”.

The Acehnese told the 7 visitors more or less the same thing. Outspoken student leaders such Aguswandi from SMUR and Radhi Darmansyah from FARMIDIA, told them in no uncertain terms how dare they had come to Aceh “stepping on the corpses of our people to offer us money which is not yours in the first place. It is our money that you have robbed”. The Minister of Home Affairs who was suppose to deliver the first speech to be followed by the others, each planned to announce the “goodies” his Ministry has prepared for the Acehnese, was forced to step down from the podium to hear a barrage of condemnations from the floor. “You people from Jakarta always force us to listen to you. Now you shut up and listen to us”, said one of the students who gate-crashed the reception. The entire ceremony had to be cancelled, including the official announcement on the formation of the Acehnese “own” regional command: Komando Daerah Militer (KODAM) Iskandar Muda. Another smoke screen, as this division would have less than 30% of its soldiers from Aceh, mostly lower ranking officers and men. Can’t there be one occasion for the leadership in Jakarta to be honest with the Acehnese people? Must they always try to con and deceive?).

On this occasion has also emerged two heroines who spoke harshly against the Indonesian military.


Being staunchly Muslims, Acehnese hold strongly to the Quranic verse that God will not improve the condition of a community before that community itself tries to improve it. The Acehnese is on a full course of implementing this divine pledge. They feel it is their duty to seek justice and not just “pasrah” (accepting one’s fate passively).

What has and is happening in Aceh is the preview of the future of the Acehnese as a distinct people. What is quite evident, their suffering won’t end soon. The Acehnese is in a dilemma. Devastated if the fight back, annihilated if they don’t. In such a case, it is inborn in the Acehnese psyche to fight back.

Jafar Sidiq Hamzah, President of the International Forum for Aceh, a human right NGO registered in New York, said in his opening address at the Asian Conference on Aceh organised in Bangkok by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia) last July 24th 1999, that “Acehnese are going to war not because they think they can win but because there is no other way”.

Several scenarios have been put forward, from prolonging the status quo with some improvement on the human rights angle and distribution of wealth, to varying degrees of autonomy, federalism and total independence. But unfortunately no one has come forward to suggest how to realise the proposals. The status quo is dead. Except for a handful of those who had benefited tremendously from the old New Order regime, and the transmigrants, no one in Aceh is that foolish.


Autonomy is no longer acceptable to the majority of Acehnese as in such an arrangement there is no guarantee that a future government would respect it. Autonomous status can easily be withdrawn by a majority decision of the Parliament. As Acehnese is very minutely represented in both legislative houses, to accept a legislative guarantee is very scary for Acehnese. ”We have been cheated three times, to be fall for the trick once again is too stupid” (Shalahuddin Alfata/Asian Conference on Aceh, Bangkok, 24/07/99).

Quite a few leaders in Indonesia, especially in the outer islands, have voiced the Federal system. The problem with this proposal is that it has received very negative response from Java. The Javanese leadership seem to think that the federal system is a prelude for independence. There is a great mistrust on their part towards the sincerity of the non-Javanese. The fact that the outer-islanders, especially the Acehnese, as has been pointed out earlier above, had contributed so much for the defence of the Republic, doesn’t seem to hold much value in confidence building in Java. Or is it possible that this suspicion is based on the feeling of guilt for having screwed up the trust placed in them for the building a true bhinneka tunggal ika nation? It is quite difficult to foresee an agreement to be reached on the form of a federal state. First of all the Provinces that would become States in the proposed Federal Indonesia would insist on safeguards. They would want to have their own police and a Home Guard, just in case the Central Government should try to be “funny” again. And such safeguards would on the other hand be regarded with great suspicion by Java as a preparation for finally breaking away.


There is a tremendous cry for referendum in Aceh. It is calculated that at least 80% of Acehnese have voiced their preference, one way or the other for this. There have been official and open demand from all 14.000 students, more than 100.000 secondary school students, 35.000 talibans (students of the religious dayah schools, used to be called santri but now have rejected this term to symbolise their refusal to have anything to do with Java anymore), 550 ulamas, professional organisations from many sectors, even the beca pedallers. Recently even some Bupati and Camat have declared their support for a referendum. The strange thing here is that everyone seems to equalise a-priori the demand for a referendum to independence. This defeatism stand on the part of those favouring continued integration with the Republic is a telltale sign of guilt feeling. When one has done another wrong, one tends to fear a justified retaliation. But to continue with the mistrust is to assure the realisation of the fear. President Abdul Rahman Wahid (Gus Dur) has explicitly and in public not only declared his support for referendum but stated that he would hold it if he becomes president. Now that he has, would he keep his word? Acehnese in general doubt it. Amien Rais, being more at ease with political language gave a qualified answer: yes, if that is the wish of the majority of the Acehnese people. But he proposes the demand of the Acehnese to be voiced democratically through their parliamentary deputies. He demonstrated early what he would do if any MP would be foolish enough to try. When Ghazali, an MP from Aceh, proposed in the upper legislative body MPR that the case of Aceh be discussed separately and not as an item in the general debate on national security, Amien used his chairman hammer to shoot down the proposal, and the house applauded, while the lone ranger Ghazali left the session in disgust.


Ask any Acehnese what he thinks about independence. Even those who do not want it would not say so. They would say, “yes of course it is preferable, but …”. But everyday those who say “but” have become fewer and fewer, no thanks to the brutal repressive and lawless actions carried out daily by the military. But can Independence be achieved? We are back to square one. Acehnese do not think in that term. For most Acehnese now that is something they have been forced to do. An Acehnese member of Parliament put it quite precisely when he said: “It is not that we don’t want to be Indonesians, it is Indonesia that does not want to accept us”.

Democracy is supposed to have returned to Indonesia. Even if one should acknowledge that there should be considerations for a transitional period, the continued atrocities in Aceh are simply not acceptable to any civilised society. Muslims have largely been shamed by the behaviour of the Indonesian military in East Timor. But may be one should consider these words from a very experienced lady who have been fighting against human rights abuses for the last 25 years, Madam Carmel Budiardjo of Tapol

“I think we have to be very clear in our mind, and also explain this to the international community that Aceh is not, what is happening there is not, a religious war. It is not that at all. It is just one of the many many acts of repression that have been perpetrated by the Indonesian government during the period, of course it goes back before that, but in particular during the period of what we call the New Order under Suharto. The Suharto regime, as I see it, and I think this reflects the truth about that regime, doesn’t pick its victims on the basis of religion. It started off by killing a million people who were suspected of being communists, so it was seen then, of course it has been always seen as a very anti-communist regime. The war that it waged against East Timor was against the population that is Catholic, but it is not a religious war, it is to do with the right of the Timorese to independence. The same regime has killed Muslims in Jakarta, in Tanjong Priok in 1984, and also in Lampong in 1987. The victims of these atrocities, these terrible atrocities and massacres were Muslims, they were not Catholics. There has been a war raging also in West Papua, which the Indonesians still call Iran Jay, and there the people are not Muslims, they are not Catholics, they are basically Protestants, and of course now the violations which are perpetrated in Aceh, are not because the Achene’s people are Muslims, I don’t believe that. I believe it has a different core, a different issue, and that is that in particular under Suharto but I feel also under the previous regime of Sukarno, Indonesia has been constructed as a very strictly unitarian state serving the centre and the centre happens to be Jakarta. Everything has to serve the Centre, and anything that deviates from this ideology of the unitary state is bound to be attacked and treated with all kinds of human rights violations. That is the problem of Indonesia. It sees itself and those in government always see themselves as running a unitary state. That is why they reject East Timor’s demand for independence. West Papua’s demand to independence, and Aceh’s very strong feeling, especially now, that it has the right for self-determination, and this I think is something that the government in Jakarta cannot countenance”. (Asian Conference on Aceh/Bangkok 24/07/99).

 For Indonesian leaders, not only that the people of Aceh cannot be allowed to have any freedom in their own homeland as most other Indonesians are now enjoying, especially in Java, they must be prevented from even speaking abroad of their suffering. When the Asian Conference on Aceh finally did take place despite all the obstacles the organisers had to face, Alatas, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs found it necessary to pressure his Thai counterpart, both in Singapore for the Asian Foreign Ministers conference, to ban the meeting. Indonesian leaders have been speaking of the necessity for dialogues. But how could dialogues take place when you prevent people from talking? There is consensus among Acehnese that the only dialogue Jakarta is interested in is where they can say, “listen!”

Most thinking people agree that the way for solution in Aceh is through dialogue. But dialogue cannot be arranged as a grand show, to suddenly have Teungku Hasan di Tiro shaking hands with the Indonesian President. There have to be small and discreet pourparlers first. There have to be feelers sent to find out what is and what is not possible at a given time. At this point in time most Acehnese are through with talking. The ball is in Jakarta’s court to show some sincerity. It has to show some willingness to listen to the aspirations of the Acehnese by letting a third party mediate, and not consider Aceh as absolutely an internal affair. In today’s world, whether one likes it or not, human rights are a universal matter, of concern to all human beings in the world.

 Haji Shalahuddin Alfata, President of the Acehnese Popular Forum for Struggle and Justice (FOPKRA) stressed this point when he said at his opening statement at the Asian Conference on Aceh that the conflict in Jakarta is a vertical one, between the government of Indonesia and the people of Aceh, insisting that it is not a parallel conflict among Acehnese. He reveals that over two hundred (at the time of writing the number has arisen to 360) schools have been burnt by non-Acehnese provocateurs, but the Indonesian authorities like to put the blame on the AGAM (the military wing of ASNLF).

Haji Shalahuddin confirmed that in a meeting between General Wiranto and his high command with the Parliament, the former Indonesian Minister of Defence and Chief of Armed Forces stated categorically that he would never pull out the non-organic troops from Aceh, saying that if he did, “Aceh will be independent the next day”. In such a situation, the war in Aceh will go on for a very long time to come, based on the fact that when a few ASNLF men led by Dr. Hasan di Tiro started the struggle in 1996, they had no military training and no weapons, but the war has been going on for 8 years. Today they have got military training, and those who have been trained are training others, mostly high school students whose schools have been burnt. From reports of clashes using such modern weapons as the M16, AK47, grenade launchers and Styre rifles, GAM fighters have come a long way from the days when they first started. It is not difficult thus to imagine thus, short of surrendering, how many years, if ever, and at what cost, materially and in human life terms, it will take the Indonesian Army to try to end this new war.

According to Alfata,“In such a situation, FOPKRA, feels obliged to invite the international community to intervene in Aceh. Neither the Acehnese nor the Indonesians can solve this problem by themselves. We have to have an international mediator between the Acehnese and the Indonesian government. If the Indonesian government can be a mediator in the conflict between the Philippines government and the Moros people, I cannot see why we can’t invite a third party to mediate between the Indonesian government and the Acehnese people”.

As a final point Haji Shalahuddin recommends that the Acehnese should be let to decide on their future for themselves, under the UN or any other International Agency’s supervision, because the last agreement concluded between the Acehnese and the Indonesian government was signed only by two parties. He said the Indonesian government had never respected that agreement that ended the Darul Islam rebellion, but there is nothing the Acehnese can do to protest as there was no witness to the agreement, it is not even notarized by a simple Notary Public.” Should the Acehnese be willing to accept a new agreement of that sort again (that is being bandied about by Indonesia in the form of a “wide autonomy” offer), they will be cheated again. “In fact we have been cheated three times in the past, and now they want to do it for the fourth time. We will be too stupid to fall for it again”.

Haji Shalahuddin then quotes a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, that he says he would like to address to the International community: “faiza lam tastahi fasnah maashi’ta” – if you have no shame, go ahead and do as you please. He closes his remarks with a plea to the international community to either mediate to end the conflict, or “to supply us with weapons so we can fight on equal term for a hundred more years”.

Is the international community going to let the Acehnese fight, on a greatly unequal term, a hundred more years? Can Indonesia withstands such a war?. The world has seen the collapse of the second most powerful power on earth, the Soviet Union that was bankrupted by its war against the Afghans. Indeed, Indonesian salvation is not by trying to crush Aceh by military might.


For other comprehensive story on Aceh please check the list below.

Aceh for Beginners (from Mr. M N Djuli, December 1999, 18.000 words)
Acehnese (from Minorities At Risk Center, University of Maryland at College Park)
Aceh 1997 (from The Karen Parker Home Page)
Aceh Emerges from Years of State Terror  (TAPOL, The Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, London)
Political History of Aceh (from U.S. Committee For Refugees, September 9, 1999 )


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Last modified: October 05, 2000