Jakarta imposes martial law in Aceh

On 19 May 2003 the Indonesian government placed Aceh, one of Indonesia's most resource-rich provinces, under martial law. This followed the breakdown of a December 2002 peace agreement between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (Gam). Breaking the original agreement, the government demanded that Gam gave up its goal of independence and laid down its arms. When Gam refused, Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law

June 1, 2003
4 min read

The people of Aceh, on the north-western tip of Sumatra, have been the victims of a long-drawn-out campaign of repression – one that started during the despotic rule of former Indonesian president General Suharto and which has continued without respite under Megawati. Aceh’s natural gas has been exploited for years by US oil firm ExxonMobil. Typically, the ExxonMobil revenues have flowed to Jakarta. The US company depends on the Indonesian army to protect its vast holdings.

Gam challenged Indonesia’s control of the territory in the mid-1970s. Although Gam’s armed forces were quickly put down, the Indonesian military conducted a massive campaign of repression in Aceh throughout the 1990s. The civilian population suffered severely.

After the fall of Suharto in May 1998 people began to speak out about widespread killings, torture centres, rapes and the relentless destruction of people’s homes and schools. Among those who spoke out most vehemently were Acehnese women, many of whom had lost husbands and sons and been raped by Indonesian soldiers.

The outcry compelled the military to promise an end to the repression, but conditions did not improve. An Indonesian parliamentary investigation in Aceh in late 1999 gathered information about no fewer than 7,000 human rights violations and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. But justice for members of the Indonesian armed forces is as remote today as it was under Suharto.

After its reversals in the 1970s, Gam was able to regroup – strengthening its position in many parts of the province. Military operations to destroy Gam resumed with even greater ferocity in 1999. There were thousands of civilian casualties. The death toll in 2002 alone was 1,300.

As soon as Jakarta announced its recent decision to impose martial law, the Indonesian army launched air attacks on alleged Gam bases. Gam has nothing in the way of air defences itself. The military says it will increase the number of its troops in Aceh to 50,000 – claiming that it needs 10 men for each Gam fighter. But Gam is only thought to have around 1,000 guerrillas. Although the renewed operations will undoubtedly kill Gam personnel, no one believes the organisation will be destroyed or that the ‘Aceh problem’ will be solved by military means.

While not all Acehnese support Gam’s declared aim of independence, the unrelenting abuses the Acehnese have suffered at the hands of the Indonesian army have meant the organisation has no difficulty recruiting fighters.

The war now underway is comparable only to the one Indonesia unleashed against East Timor in the late 1970s, and we know how that ended.

Successive British governments have ignored warnings from human rights organisations to halt the export of military equipment to Indonesia. Britain has claimed that the exports are for legitimate defence purposes. But the Indonesian army itself admits that it faces no foreign threats.

The Indonesian air force now has several squadrons of British Hawk-200 and Hawk-100 aircraft; the contracts were concluded by the Thatcher and Major governments. Scorpion tanks have also been exported. Labour has so far refused to halt this trade. Hawks and Scorpions are among the armoury now being used in Jakarta’s war against the Acehnese. Hawks were already in action on the first day of martial law, escorting Hercules aircraft transporting troops to Aceh.

Western governments must exert pressure on the Megawati government to halt this new war against Aceh. They must call for the lifting of martial law and for renewed talks to end the conflict. Otherwise, Aceh will experience a humanitarian catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. And the British government must halt all further arms exports to Indonesia and demand that all military equipment supplied by the UK be withdrawn from Aceh.

For further details:

Contact Tapol, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, at tapol@gn.apc.org

Or visit: http://tapol.gn.apc.org


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out