Analysis By Andreas Harsono
JAKARTA, Jan 23 (IPS) - The world has come together to aid
survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and by large it has been
welcomed in the tsunami-hit countries in South and South-east
Asia. Yet in Indonesia's Aceh province, the welcome is proving
awkward and signs are emerging that there is paranoia about the
presence of foreigners on Indonesian soil.
Early this month some Indonesian legislators, especially members
of the Muslim-based Prosperous and Justice Party (PKS) and the
Golkar Party, which dominates the parliament, raised the issue of
foreign troops being a ''threat to Indonesia's sovereignty'' in
Aceh in northern Sumatra - which has been the hardest hit in the
Dec. 26 tsunami.
The death toll in Aceh and northern Sumatra stands at more than
166,000 of the over 220,000 deaths reported so far. The number of
homeless in Aceh is estimated at 800,000.
Hidayat Nur Wahid, a PKS member and currently the speaker of the
People's Consultative Assembly, said that the arrival of U.S.,
Australian as well as other foreign troops to help the tsunami
victims should be controlled.
''They should go out within a month,'' said Hidayat, adding that
his party is worried some foreign soldiers as well as the
international aid workers might help ''Christianise'' the
predominantly Muslim Acehnese.
Such concerns were soon brought up in a cabinet meeting led by
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Presidential spokesman
Alifian Mallarangeng declined to reveal who brought up this issue
in the meeting but the cabinet agreed to set the withdrawal
deadline in three months time.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who attended the meeting, later told
the media that ''foreigners should get out of Aceh as soon as
''Three months are enough. The sooner (they leave), the better,''
Indonesians, not foreign troops, according to Kalla, should take
charge of caring for those who lost their homes to the tsunami.
When asked about long-term relief efforts, he said: ''We don't
need foreign troops.''
Up to now, the international relief efforts in Aceh have gone on
smoothly with some 1,700 foreign troops having joined hands with
2,500 foreign aid workers and volunteers.
But a combination of nationalism, xenophobia and the inability of
Indonesia to deal with Aceh's violent past, may work against the
huge international relief effort at the expense of 800,000
Aceh has been almost entirely closed to any international presence due to military operations there against the Free Acheh Movement - known by its Indonesian acronym as GAM -- which has been fighting for independence since 1976. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since then.
The government put the province under martial law on May 19, 2003
before reducing this to a state of civil emergency one year
Ironically, Hidayat and Kalla's statements have found resonance
in many Indonesian circles that are opposed to the United States.
For one, U.S. forces aren't anybody's pin-up heroes after the bad
publicity they received from the Abu Gharib prison atrocities in
Iraq. Indonesian newspapers have carried the prison scandal
pictures in full and that has only fuelled resentment against
them. Many Indonesian Muslims see the U.S. troops as staunchly
Nonetheless, many have termed Kalla's statement as short-sighted
and are concerned about Indonesia's actual capacity to cope with
post-disaster management if it had to do it all by itself.
The vice-president, an advocate for the implementation of Islamic
law in Indonesia, is also the chairman of Indonesia's disaster
Nono Anwar Makarim of the Jakarta-based Aksara think tank called
Kalla's statement as one bordering on ''xenophobia''. He made the
reference in a column for the Kompas daily newspaper.
Makarim also castigated both Kalla and Hidayat for raising the
issue of the adoption of Acehnese children by so-called
''Christian foreigners'' - which has been played up by the
mainstream media here.
In hitting out against the two Islamic nationalists, the
columnist wrote a story on two children just to illustrate their
The two Indonesian children were orphans and abandoned by their
communities, he said. ''Later, they were adopted by a North
American family,'' said Makarim.
''The eldest son is now studying in a top Texas college while the
daughter has just finished university and is working in a medical
company,'' he added.
In the column's punch-line, Makarim wrote: ''To see how happy
they are, I forgot to ask about their religion.''
Interestingly, another concern came from Gen. Endriartono
Sutarto, the chief of the Indonesian military, whose 40,000
soldiers practically control Aceh. Sutarto revealed the
Indonesian military only has five cargo airplanes and seven
''What can we do with these five Hercules and seven choppers? Do
you think we could bring the cargo from (Aceh's provincial
capital) Banda Aceh to Meulaboh (the worst hit area) by
bicycles?" he was quoted by Tempo magazine as saying.
Banda Aceh has the longest airstrip in the area and Meulaboh is
the on the province's western coast. It takes only 30 minutes to
reach Meulaboh by helicopter but nearly 20 hours by motor-boat.
U.S. troops are using 17 Black Hawk, six Chinhook and two Super
Puma helicopters to deliver emergency relief supplies inland.
These helicopters are backed up by four Hercules transport
From the Australian side, four Hercules transport carriers and
four helicopters are in action. In total, there are more than 50
helicopters and 20 cargo planes used by international troops in
the global relief effort.
Ironically, if the logic of the ''foreign'' and ''non-foreign''
presence is used in Aceh, many Acehnese would consider the
Javanese as the ''unwelcome guests.''
GAM rebels officially consider ''the nation of Java with the
national capital Jakarta'' as the colonial ruler of Aceh. The
separatists have even refused the Bahasa Indonesia spelling of
Aceh, insisting instead on the use of the word 'Acheh' - as the
region was known in 1873 when the 'Achehnese' sultanate fought
against the Dutch colonisers.
The confusion over the disaster management in Aceh stepped into
another sad phase when President Yudhoyono on Jan. 17, just five
days after the cabinet meeting, held another meeting and
criticised Kalla's disaster management body. He ordered the
establishment of an autonomous body to supervise the
reconstruction of the province, saying that the disputed
''deadline'' - to get foreign troops out -- was only a
That Yudhoyono went into damage control is understandable. Aceh,
could be the new president's biggest test, and the barometer by
which his entire five-year term will be judged. (END/2005)