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INDONESIA
Military uses the U.S. "war on terror" as cover for an all-out offensive
Indonesia's war on Aceh

By Eric Ruder | May 30, 2003 | Page 5

"WE WILL do whatever we can to win this campaign and wipe out the rebels," snapped Brig. Gen. Bambang Darmono of the Indonesian military. Darmono is one of the generals in charge of Indonesia's brutal assault on Aceh, a region on the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Since 1976, Indonesian soldiers have killed more than 12,000 Acehnese in an attempt to drown the struggle for Acehnese national liberation in blood. Now, Indonesia hopes that it can use the U.S. "war on terror" as a cover to strike a fatal blow. "We are trying to eliminate the rebels from the air, land and sea," said Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya. "We are trying to prevent them from escaping."

The Indonesian government has already mobilized 30,000 troops and 12,000 police as part of an all-out attack on approximately 5,000 poorly armed Acehnese rebels--Indonesia's largest military operation since it invaded and seized East Timor in 1975.

After that East Timor invasion--likewise carried out to squelch an independence movement--Indonesian troops carried out a genocide, killing approximately one-third of the population. Indonesia was finally forced to give up East Timor last year--but not before another reign of terror in 1999 in retaliation for the Timorese people's vote in favor of independence.

In Aceh, the offensive has already driven 23,000 people from their homes, and the government is warning that the number will climb to 100,000. According to one report, Indonesian troops last week ambushed a group of seven Acehnese youths, aged 12 to 20, from the village of Mapa Mamplam, executed several--and told the rest to run before shooting them in the back. They then beat up more than 30 villagers with sticks and guns, sprayed a house with gunfire and stole money from others.

Just after the killings, soldiers cheerfully led an Indonesian reporter to the grisly scene. "Just report that we are [the special forces]," one of the soldiers told the journalist. "We already killed 10 rats over there."

The offensive began when negotiations over a peace deal signed in December broke down after Indonesian officials issued an ultimatum to the resistance--give up your demand for independence and put down your arms or else. The flawed peace agreement was designed to maintain Indonesia's grip on Aceh's rich oil reserves, granting Aceh nothing more than an "autonomous government" in 2004 and control over 70 percent of its own resources.

While Aceh accounts for 15 percent of Indonesia's exports--an enormous proportion given Aceh's small size in relation to the vast collection of islands that make up Indonesia--the Acehnese population lives in poverty. For decades, the government has resettled people from the densely populated region of Java in Aceh.

As a result, "in Aceh's industrial zones on the coast, and in the mountains of Aceh, the people are primarily Javanese transmigrants and workers," according to Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, an Acehnese human rights lawyer. "So the Acehnese have no access to the coast or to the mountains. We can't get to the fish and the rice, which are the basis for our existence. We're suffocating in the middle and are starving."

With Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri facing a tight reelection bid next year, the nationalist appeal of "crushing separatists" in Aceh is a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the country's deep economic crisis and mass unemployment. And because most of the 4 million people of Aceh are adherents of a stricter version of Islam than Indonesia's other 190 million Muslims, Megawati has sought to demonize the Free Aceh Movement as "Islamist."

But the gamble could easily backfire if the military doesn't win a relatively quick victory. This is why the military moved quickly to using barbaric assassinations and terror.

While the U.S. government officially supports a continuation of negotiations and criticized the military offensive, it has little credibility as a "peace broker." Washington has long been the main pillar of support for Indonesia's military and its brutality against nationalist movements--especially under the rule of the former dictator Suharto, who was finally toppled in a 1998 uprising.

What's more, U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil has a significant natural gas operation in Aceh and has paid millions to the Indonesian military to provide "security services." In 2001, the International Labor Rights Fund filed a civil lawsuit in a U.S. federal court against Exxon Mobil, alleging that the corporation should be held liable for "genocide, murder, torture, crimes against humanity, sexual violence and kidnapping" committed by the Indonesian military while it was providing security from 1999 to 2001.

The State Department has urged the judge in the case to drop the lawsuit, saying that it could harm the "war on terrorism." Thus, the Bush administration would welcome the brutal suppression of the Free Aceh Movement--despite the enormous human cost. We have to expose the hypocrisy of the U.S. government and its green light--once again--for state-sponsored terrorism in Indonesia.

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