Activist outlines scope of struggle against martial law in Acheh
Indonesia extended martial law in November for another six months within the northern province of Acheh in an attempt to extinguish the separatist Free Acheh Guerrilla Movement (GAM) and the widespread civilian movement for self-determination. Prominent Achehnese human rights and peace campaigner Aguswandi in a November speech urged the European Parliament to call on the Indonesian government to stop the offensive and resume talks with GAM. We publish excerpts of his remarks.
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Nobody is winning the war in Acheh at the moment, not the Indonesian government, not the Free Acheh Movement, not the people of Indonesia, and obviously not the Achehnese. The only winner is the Indonesian military. Its operation in Acheh has not achieved significant progress, but it has succeeded in exploiting the conflict there to regain domination over Indonesian politics. While Achehnese are the immediate victims, the Indonesian people and their democracy, their dreams of reform, are the invisible victims of the war.
It is impossible to tell the story of this senseless war without also telling the story of the Jakarta politics that precipitated it. Politics in Indonesia post-New Order [since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998] is still very messy. The problem of impunity has not been dealt with, the problem of corruption, the problem of justice; all contribute to the inability to solve the problem of Acheh. Many government critics say that the reform agenda (reformasi) is dead.
The military controls the media, restricts travel and news, and stamps all opponents of the war as unpatriotic. It has become a war against all Achehnese, both those who are against Jakarta and those who are not. People have to show the flag to show their loyalty. Achehnese are forced to sing the national anthem loudly and clearly; the ability to sing the national anthem is becoming a matter of life and death. There is screening of all civil servants to identify their loyalty. Everywhere there are road blocks, military sweeps, and recruitment of militia.
The conflict in Acheh is political, and a political solution is needed. It can come about through a genuine dialogue between the people of Acheh and Jakarta, one which leads to discussion about what kind of society we are going to build. A new kind of creativity is needed. For this, Indonesia and GAM should agree to involve civil society in the peace process.
People talk a lot about Acheh in terms of the continued killing, the destruction of life and humanity. Civil society is the potential creative element in this gloomy situation. The conflict has given rise to a new generation of Acehnese civil society who want to create a better life for both Acheh and Indonesia.
This civil society is made up of young intellectuals, student groups, and all sectors who have been struggling to create a democratic and just society since the collapse of the Suharto regime. There is a very limited space for them in Acheh right now, but they are working to create space. For them, the conflict is not only about national self-determination, but beyond that, it is about self-determination of the Achehnese and Indonesian people.
Violence is negative, but conflict itself can be positive if we drive it in the right direction. Conflict can change the present unjust system and structural relationships. Peace that maintains the status quo, the unjust system, domination and oppression would be a negative peace. Achehnese civil society has been working to create a positive peace, one that brings a transformation of the status quo and the society. The struggle in Acheh is not the struggle of a certain ethnic group demanding the right to self rule. It is a not about territory, but about people.
Published by News and Letters Committees