NEWS & LETTERS, July-August 2005

No peace, no rebuilding in Acheh

Six months after last Decemberís tsunami killed more than 200,000 people in Acheh, the Indonesian government has still made little effort to rebuild. Bodies continue to be pulled from piles of rubble and most refugees still live in camps.  Most of the rebuilding Acheh has seen has been done by NGOs and foreign government aid agencies. Millions of dollars of Indonesian government funds earmarked for reconstruction and relief have disappeared due to graft, according to reports recently sent to parliament.

After the tsunami killed 2,000 teachers and destroyed thousands of schools, the schools were closed for three months.  As a result, most junior and senior high school students in tsunami areas failed this yearís national exams. The juniors have to repeat a year and the seniors cannot go on to universities. 

The governmentís master plan for rebuilding Acheh has not even been funded, yet a secret memo from the defense minister to the finance minister demanded an additional $55 million be allocated before the end of June for fighting the independence movement in Acheh. This gives the lie to Indonesiaís claim to have recently lifted the "civil emergency" (martial law) in Acheh. The military is still killing Achenese civilians as well as Free Acheh Movement (GAM) fighters daily. 

Indonesiaís war against GAM continued even during a European Union monitoring teamís visit in late June in expectation of a peace agreement being signed soon. Four rounds of peace talks have been held in Helsinki, and two more sessions are scheduled.  Some progress has been made but no agreements have been reached. One observer remarked, "The talks are important to give the Achenese hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Meanwhile, nationalists in the Indonesian parliament oppose even talking to GAM, urging the military to crush the rebels instead--which it has been trying to do for 29 years. Indonesiaís military effort has included extreme repression of civil society organizations working for independence. The military is already forcing Achenese villagers to demonstrate against the peace talks and international monitors.  The military is still a strong force in the Indonesian government, and some reform politicians think there is no hope of weakening its hold unless peace is achieved in Acheh.

Indonesia uses many tricks to try to distract people from its utter failure to aid and reconstruct Acheh and its continuing corruption. In 2001, the government ordered Shari'a (religious law) to be implemented in Acheh against the wishes of the Achenese, as part of Indoneisa's propoganda that Acheh is fighing to be more Islamic rather than for human rights.  Shari'a punishment was not used, however, until recently, undoubted to scare the foreign aid workers there now.  In June, several people were ordered caned as punishment for gambling 50 cents each.  This caused Achenese to exclaim that caning is used only against the poor, and to ask why the governor of Acheh, who was convicted of stealing millions of dollars, was not caned--nor the military that runs so much in Acheh, from gambling and prostitution to extortion, drug trafficking and illegal logging. 

Indonesia is still trying to force all foreigners out of Acheh so it can carry on military operations with impunity. Even though many aid workers have been unable to renew their visas, some have stayed on without permission due to the dire need. In June, a Red Cross worker from Hong Kong was shot in the neck near an army post. Each side claimed the other had shot her, but as GAM pointed out, only Indonesia wants the foreigners to leave--GAM wants Acheh to remain open to foreigners, whose presence provides a little protection against military abuses.

--Acheh Center NYC, achehcenter@yahoo.com

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