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2005-01-14

With Tsunami Death Toll in Indonesia Possibly Rising Over 200,000, Military Crackdown In Aceh Continues

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The government has imposed restrictions on the movement of aid workers and journalists. Aid workers have been told to inform the government of their travel plans or face expulsion and to take army escorts to most areas outside of Banda Aceh. [includes rush transcript]

Indonesia has found nearly 4,000 more bodies of tsunami victims, taking the global death toll from last month’s disaster to over 160,000. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country with at least 110,000 people dead and many thousands more are missing. And even that count may be an underestimate. Knight Ridder is now reporting that an official document posted by local officials in Aceh revises the casualty count to 210,000 people dead or missing. The paper adds that rescue workers think even that number may be low.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian military plans to send thousands more soldiers into Aceh bringing the total troop deployment there to almost 50,000.

In May 2003, the Indonesian government launched a massive offensive against the Free Aceh Movement and banned most foreigners from Aceh, but it was forced to scale back and re-open the area last month to allow international aid in.

The government has since imposed restrictions on the movement of aid workers and journalists. Aid workers have been told to inform the government of their travel plans or face expulsion and to take army escorts to most areas outside of Banda Aceh. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Vice-President Jusuf Kalla called on Wednesday for foreign troops helping with relief efforts to leave Aceh by the end of March.

  • Allan Nairn, Journalist and Activist. To read Allan’s reports, go to: newsc.blogspot.com.

Go to the East Timor Action Network for more information.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by journalist and activist, Allan Nairn. Allan survived the massacre in east Timor of 1991 where Indonesian soldiers opened fire and killed more than 270 Timorese in that massacre. Allan had his skull fractured. He’s also spent a good deal of time in Indonesian Aceh and has just recently returned. Allan, can you talk about the latest developments, the numbers we’re seeing and the movements of the Indonesian military?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s now 20 days after the tsunami, and the president of Indonesia, General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is still refusing to lift the state of siege, the de facto martial law. There’s an interesting op-ed piece in the "Wall Street Journal" by a German doctor, Norbert Vollertsen who has done medical work in North Korea. He’s now in Aceh, and he compares the current military control in Aceh to the situation in North Korea, the environment. And that’s the least of it. Because he’s only seeing a part of Banda Aceh, now that it’s been open to the outside world. If he could have seen rural Aceh before, it would have been even worse. But it’s not a bad comparison. Specifically now, it appears that Kopassas, the red berets, the special forces of the Indonesian army, the most feared units who specialize in torture and kidnapping and political rape and who are also trained by the U.S. Green berets in tactics such as urban warfare, and advanced sniper technique, the Kopassas and also the Indonesian military intelligence unit, S.G.I., also quite feared. They are now getting directly involved in the distribution of aid. I just spoke to an Acehnese activist just returned from West Aceh, who said that aid supplies are being taken directly to the Kopassas and S.G.I. barracks. These barracks are torture centers where Acehnese are routinely brought in and worked-over for interrogation. And now these supplies are being piled up there and either resold by the Kopassas and S.G.I. intelligence people or, as the person that I spoke to put it, used as a political instrument in the villages. They go out to the villages and first demand that villagers present their special I.D. card issued by the police, given only to people who are certified as not being opponents of the army, and they demand they swear allegiance to the state of Indonesia and collaborate with the army. Specifically, this is apparently now going on in Meulaboh, in West Aceh, in Aceh Jaya and rural areas of Banda Aceh, such as Leupnung, Krueng Raya, and also in the east in the outskirts of Pidie and Lhokseumawe. In Meulaboh. There’s a report of forced labor by the local district military commander, who is requiring survivors to pick up the dead bodies and some who have refused to do this, have been tortured.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Allan, what do you make of first the insistence of the Indonesian government that all foreign troops get out by March, and then yesterday, U.S. officials saying they think that that’s actually a reasonable request?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s probably a little confusing to people looking from the outside. The Indonesian military is a client of the U.S. military. Their regime came to power in 1965-1967 with U.S. backing. At that time they consolidated their power and put in General Suharto as the ruler of Indonesia by killing anywhere from 400,000 to 1 million Indonesian civilians and Washington and the Pentagon and also the U.S. press openly expressed their delight. They gave extensive military aid. But at the same time, because of the internal politics of Indonesia, where nationalism is very important, the Indonesian military has to pretend that it’s independent of the U.S., even dislikes it. So they’re often rhetorical clashes of this kind. It’s very ironic now because when you speak to Acehnese in Aceh, they’re very grateful for the fact that American troops have come in on helicopters, have come ashore and are delivering food aid, but if the White House and the Pentagon have their way, those Acehnese are in for a cruel trick, because the White House and Pentagon are now pushing to restore full military aid to Jakarta, which means that in addition to food being brought in off those ships, and delivered to Acehnese, weapons and military expertise would be brought in from those ships and the Pentagon they represent and given to the military, which has been, the Indonesian military, which has been killing the Acehnese. That is, if the White House and Pentagon succeed, and in fact this Wednesday, Paul Wolfowitz, who is the Deputy Defense Secretary, had a series of meetings in Washington with top generals and brought in some outside consultants where they planned a campaign to restore the U.S. military aid to Indonesia. Wolfowitz himself has personally been three times to Aceh. He’s about to go over to Indonesia.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to award-winning journalist, Allan Nairn, who has won numerous journalistic honors for exposing the Indonesian military, recently returned from Indonesia and Aceh, about the situation in Aceh now, the tsunami-ravaged Aceh. You talk about deputy director of defense, Paul Wolfowitz who’s headed over there now. Well-known for being one of the architects of the invasion of Iraq, was a former ambassador to Indonesia, so knows well what was going on. What was his role and how does it continue today now?

ALLAN NAIRN: Wolfowitz was a big backer of Suharto and the Indonesian military and at every stage he has pressed for further backing for the Indonesian armed forces. So, now he is going to try to use this opportunity to break the current congressional restrictions. Right now, due to grassroots activism all across the United States, and due to bipartisan congressional response to that activism, there are severe restrictions in place on what the Pentagon can actually do for the Indonesian armed forces. They’re not allowed to sell almost all categories of weapons. They’re not allowed to finance weapons sales. They’re not allowed to provide most categories of training. There are very tough restrictions. These were put in after the various massacres in East Timor. But Wolfowitz is now trying to break them to further equip the Indonesian military, which would be disastrous for people in Aceh and also in Papua where the Indonesian military is doing similar operations.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the relief groups. How are they operating right now in Aceh. What kind of deals are made with the Indonesian government? We have heard about a tremendous amount of money, of course, people extremely generous in supporting all the big organizations. How are they operating?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, the relief groups. First of all, the Acehnese and Indonesian relief groups, the local people, where people in the areas of Aceh that survived the tsunami and people outside in Indonesia have been extremely generous, have been pouring in lots of money, have been trying to come in as volunteers, and they’ve been systematically extorted and blocked by the Indonesian military. An aid group just came over from Malaysia, was trying to cross over the border from Sumatra into Aceh, and they were stopped at the border, told by the military that there is now a ban on bringing in aid by land, and they were forced to pay bribes in order to get in. Acehnese who were trying to deliver aid to their fellow citizens are being told that they can only go around with military escorts. They’re being interrogated about their political views, etc. The big outside agencies have, like the U.N. and the big charities, have memoranda of understanding with the government of Indonesia, which set the terms for their access to Indonesia and Aceh. And this often requires them to work through the government, and in concert with the military. The aid groups, the big groups often say they don’t get involved in politics. That’s not quite true. In the 1990’s during the Clinton Administration, when Suharto came to the U.S., C.A.R.E. actually organized a gala for him in Washington shortly before he met President Clinton where about 250 corporate C.E.O.'s honored Suharto. I think the aid groups should be more open now in speaking out about what the military's doing. If you speak to them privately, they will say one thing. Their public statements are very reserved. Also, I think the big aid groups should re-channel a lot of the money they have received from generous private citizens, to small grassroots groups on the ground in Indonesia, and Aceh that are literally fighting for survival. Just yesterday, we got a report that the Indonesian government is actually blocking the bank accounts of some of the grassroots groups trying to prevent them from receiving donations from overseas.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the political resistance or the guerrilla movements that were there in Aceh before the tsunami. What has been their role, obviously, in terms of what’s going on with the disaster aid and reconstruction, and what’s been the Indonesian government’s posture toward them?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, in Aceh, there is an armed rebel movement called the GAM, which wants independence. They exist alongside much broader civilian movement, which has called for a referendum, a free vote on the question of independence. As soon as the tsunami struck, the armed GAM immediately offered a cease-fire, and the Indonesian government rejected that, and kept on attacking. Now, what the Indonesian government is saying, they want to talk. But it’s not clear what will come of that. From December, 2002, until May of 2003, there was actually a fairly constructive peace deal called the COHA, a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in place, which allowed some free speech and free organization in Aceh. There could be a return to that if the U.S. put pressure on Jakarta and if civilians were brought into the negotiating process, not just the Indonesian government and the armed rebel GAM.

AMY GOODMAN: If people wanted to support grassroots groups, where could they go?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, within the U.S., the East Timor action network at www.etan.org is passing on donations to some groups and there is also Tapol in Britain which is doing similar work.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, I want to thank you for being with us. Journalist and activist, just recently back from Indonesia and Aceh.

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