In The Line of Fire

The military operation has begun in Aceh. In the battlefields, the wrong people are targeted.

IT was coming up to midday, time for noon prayers, in the village of Cot Arum Baroe, Bireuen, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. The sun was blazing down from a cloudless sky. On the asphalt road, dozens of village youths lay face down. Without saying much, a member of the Police Mobile Brigade wearing boots walked over the prone figures.

Events tend to repeat themselves over and over gain. Other officers seized more youths hiding in their homes. They were beaten on the head with pieces of wood. Blood flowed. Some of them lost teeth from the beatings. The men lying in the street were grilled under the sun for two and a half hours. "We laid on the asphalt," said Yusuf, a villager from Cot Arum, who was one of the victims.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police (Polri) personnel who lost their tempers that day were looking for 15 members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), whom they thought had entered an isolated village. They demanded where the 15 fleeing separatist guerillas had gone. But, "How could we answer when we were being beaten and threatened with guns like that?" said Husni, a man from another village who received similar treatment.

An army commander then asked, "Where is the village head?" Yusuf, who is also the imam of the village mosque, said it was he. He was told to stand. "The commander apologized. But I had already been beaten," said Yusuf bitterly.

The police accused the people of hiding GAM fighters. "They should report if they are bothered [by GAM]. If they don't report, it means there is something [not right]. Only people who are in the wrong are afraid of the police," said Bireuen district police chief Comr. Laksa Widhyana. Meanwhile, TNI denied the accounts of the villagers of Cot Arum. "It's not true. This is an open war. The war is being monitored by reporters," said head of the TNI Information Agency, Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin.

The incident at Cot Arum Baroe is just one of the excesses in the implementation of the state of emergency and martial law since last Monday. Via the Presidential Decision (Keppres) No. 28/2003, the government took a clear stance: the Free Aceh Movement is a separatist movement that must be wiped out. At exactly midnight last Sunday, the Keppres came into effect. It was read out by the president's military secretary, Maj. Gen. T.B. Hasanuddin.

It seems that Jakarta's patience has run out. After the deadline for the Joint Council meeting passed on May 12, Jakarta gave GAM one more chance for negotiations. The two opposing sides met at the Central Training Building of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on May 18. The Indonesian delegation was led by Wiryono Sastrohandoyo and the GAM team was headed by state minister Malik Mahmud.

Negotiations were difficult. Indonesia insisted that GAM accept special autonomy and the concept of the unitary republic of Indonesia and lay down their arms. "The hardest was the demand that GAM accept regional autonomy by force. That was something we could not accept," said Bakhtiar Abdullah, a member of the GAM delegation. The negotiations, which lasted 13 and a half hours, did not result in either side softening their stance.

The draft of the autonomy proposal was a problem. According to Wiryono, in the meeting the GAM delegation scrawled out Jakarta's autonomy concept. "They were committed to laying down their arms, but said they did not want to accept autonomy," he said. At about 11:30pm, the talks reached deadlock. "Indonesia wants the Aceh problem to be resolved by violence," said Malik Mahmud looking disheveled.

Jakarta seems determined. Even Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, who thus far had believed in dialog, has fallen in line. He was previously known to be a supporter of the peaceful process. In a Geneva restaurant three years ago, Hassan said he was certain that the Aceh problem could be resolved through dialog. "However difficult it is, dialog can reduce military conflict," he told TEMPO. At the time, during the presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid, GAM and Indonesia were close to agreeing on a humanitarian pause for Aceh.

But time changes everything. The battle pennants have been hoisted. According to deputy cabinet secretary Erman Rajagukguk, as soon as the news of the failure of the Tokyo talks was received, the draft of the Keppres was drawn up at the office of the Coordinating Minister for Political & Security Affairs on Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat, Jakarta. Apart from the cabinet secretarial staff, also present were Coordinating Minister for Political & Security Affairs, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Minister of Justice & Human Rights, Yusril Ihza Mahendra. "The draft was changed many times. That's why it was finished so late at night," said Erman to TEMPO News Room journalist Retno S.

Like preparing for war, Indonesia lobbied neighboring countries. This time, it was Minister Hassan Wirajuda who was involved. Several times, Hassan invited ambassadors to his office in Pejambon, Central Jakarta. The results were reasonably satisfactory. According to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, at least 85 countries and 24 international organizations expressed their support for the integrity of Indonesia. The United States and Great Britain were among the pro-Jakarta nations.

In the field, the TNI moved. Besides 26,000 army personnel who were already in Aceh, TNI sent 6,350 additional personnel from the Rapid Reaction Strike Force (PPRC). They comprised men from the 18th Airborne Infantry Brigade, the Naval Taskforce, the Frog Force Unit from the Eastern Naval Fleet Command, the 1st Marine Amphibious Battalion and the Air Force Special Forces Command.

The operation is being led by the martial law commander Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya. Under him are the Sector A and B Operational Commands, each with their sector commands and mobile taskforces. In the first six months of the operation, the military will separate GAM from the people. Then the process of destroying GAM will begin. "But it could be reduced to three months if the situation makes it possible," said Col. Andogo Wiradi, commander of the 1st Mobile Task Force Brigade in Peurlak, East Aceh.

The military will also map the location of GAM forces. Andogo showed his data to TEMPO. In East Aceh, there are 827 GAM personnel. The military is targeting the GAM military commander for the Peurlak region, Teungku Sanusi bin Malih and GAM spokesman Sofyan Daud. It is believed there are 344 weapons in this region. In North Aceh, the military is seeking regional commanders Batee Iliek and Darwis Jeunib. In Paya Maligoe there is Teungku Sanusi. In Matang Ulin Village, East Aceh, there is the GAM military commander Muzakkir Manaf and Pase region governor Said Adnan. On paper, everything seems ready: it's just a matter of checking the map and shooting and GAM is finished.

GAM members know they are cornered. With only 5,000 personnel and 2,000 weapons, they will find it difficult to wage open war on the TNI. Recently, GAM spokesman Sofyan Daud admitted that they are not as strong as the military. "Our aim is to embarrass the TNI, because when the military operation ends, GAM will still be here," he said. That is why, using guerilla tactics, they are not concerned with controlling territory in the way the TNI is. "For guerillas, territory is not the aim," said Isnandar, deputy GAM military spokesmen.

The two sides are free to engage in a war of words. But on the ground, look at what has happened. In only a week of operations, 317 schools have been burned down, the Indonesian Government Radio (RRI) building has been damaged and electricity pylons have been wrecked. In Matangnibong, Peurlak, East Aceh, a civilian was killed by a stray TNI bullet during a gun battle.

Many people are worried about the protection of civilians. Especially since Keppres 28/2003 does not only concern a military operation, but also a humanitarian operation, upholding of the law and bureaucratic improvements. But on the ground, there is no sign of these three parts of the operation. Given this and the military excesses toward civilians, it is no surprise that the people are taking a cynical view of the attack. "They said it was an integrated operation, but why are they doing it like this?" said Sayed, a victim of the Cot Arum Baroe incident.

Then there is the excessively large war budget. On paper, TNI believes this dispute can be resolved in six months. That is why the Keppres stipulates that the length of the operation will be six months. According to Director-General of Budgeting at the Finance Department, Anshari Ritonga, the government has set aside Rp1.7 trillion for the operation in Aceh, Rp50 billion of which has been allocated to the Social Affairs Department to deal with refugees (see The High Price of Civil War).

But nobody can be sure that GAM will be defeated in such a short time. Operation Red Net when Aceh was a military operations area from 1989-1998 did not wipe out GAM to the grass roots level. And now there are suddenly extra spending needs. "Rebuilding destroyed schools was not considered [previously]," said Anshari. Because of this, Finance Minister Boediono is already complaining. The integrated operation to restore security to Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam has added to the burden of spending requirements in the 2004 State Budget.

The government faces a dilemma: continuing the war, but having no money, or stopping the "quarrel", with the consequence that the Aceh problem will become a snake in the grass. Perhaps this is why since the beginning, Wiryono has not wanted to close the door to negotiations with GAM. "The government is still keeping open the door to peace although the military operation has been launched," he said. But nobody has the nerve to guarantee when the door will be open again. Perhaps after the two sides are exhausted and civilian casualties mount.

Arif Zulkifli, Edy Budiyarso (Jakarta) Wahyu Dhyatmika, Zainal Bakri, Abdul Manan (Lhokseumawe), Bagja Hidayat (TEMPO News Room)

TEMPO, JUNE 02, 2003-038/P. 15 Heading Cover Story


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