Monday, May 19, 2003

Time for all Indonesians to speak up against Aceh war


JAKARTA Sandra Hamid is a young Jakarta housewife. She recently showed me a short message stored in her handphone. 

It reads: “I cannot talk much about Aceh now. GAM (Free Aceh Movement) allegation! It’s the turn of other Indonesians to speak up.” 

Sandra showed me that message when Jakarta was exploding with talks about a possible war in Aceh earlier this month. 

She told me, “It’s people like us whom he asked to speak up.”  

The message came from Rizal Sukma, an American-trained political analyst working for a think tank in Jakarta. He is an Indonesian citizen of Acehnese descent. 

Rizal indeed has a lot of concern for the future of Aceh in the northern tip of Sumatra. Both Rizal and Sandra are two of Jakarta's best and brightest. They got their Ph.Ds from leading American universities. Both helped maverick politician Amien Rais set up his political party back in 1999. Sandra was Amien’s speechwriter and once even his wardrobe advisor (Amien wears better ties now).  

The guerillas as well as their exile leadership in Sweden rejected what they claimed to be “Javanese colonialism” and vowed to wage a guerilla war against Indonesian soldiers.  

This was the point where both sides drew to the extreme. The argument was reduced to: “You are on their side or our side.” Rizal became speechless. Many other Acehnese figures, ranging from Muslim ulama (scholars) to human rights activists, chose to be quiet.  

Indonesian military commander Gen Endriartono Sutarto told the parliament the military was seeking Rp1.23tril (RM550mil) to support the war in restive Aceh.  

The military’s annual budget stands at Rp11.536bil (RM5mil). 

Endriartono basically asked for an additional budget 100 times bigger than his annual finances.  

But many disagree with President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s decision to stage a war in Aceh despite the seriousness of the insurgency. The guerilla war in Aceh poses a genuine security threat.  

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group issued a paper entitled, Aceh: Why The Military Option Still Won’t Work.  

“The military solution is certain to fail as long as the security forces are incapable of exercising the degree of control and discipline over their troops necessary to prevent behaviour that alienates ordinary Acehnese.  

“Nothing has changed. Military reform has stalled over the last two years, and there is no reason to believe that the planned offensive will be conducted any more carefully,” said the report. 

Endriartono recently sent more than 6,000 troops to Aceh to join the 36,000 troops deployed in the province. GAM is estimated to have between 5,000 and 6,000 fighters in Aceh. Jakarta declared that it theoretically needs 10 soldiers for each guerilla, meaning that it is to deploy up to 50,000 soldiers to wage the war.  

People like Rizal and Sandra are worried. The planned war is very likely to create more victims among the civilians, or in other words, more GAM guerillas in the future. Jakarta is also unlikely to win this guerilla war in only six months. Unfortunately, many Indonesian citizens see this problem as a matter between the Acehnese and Jakarta. Not about themselves.  

It’s time for Indonesia's young democracy to openly challenge its president. Not only Acehnese like Rizal Sukma but also other Indonesians, be they Padang, Javanese, Madurese, Sundanese, Chinese, Arab, Dayak, Batak, et cetera. 

If only they would like to see their new democracy not threatened by growing militarism in Indonesia. 

Andreas Harsono is The Star's correspondent in Jakarta. 

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