Acehnese Refugees Speak Out

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We continue to look at the area hardest hit by the Tsunami — Aceh. Over 100,000 of the dead are in Indonesia alone. We’ll speak with an Acehnese refugee whose mother was a woman’s rights activist in Aceh, imprisoned by the Indonesian government. The prison was destroyed by the Tsunami. We also hear from Acehnese refugees who held a protest outside the UN. [includes rush transcript]

Acehnese and U.S. human rights groups protested yesterday outside of the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations, condemning the Indonesian military for its handling of the Tsunami. They accused the Indonesian armed forces of continuing their military operations in Aceh and of preventing the delivery of aid to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Activists charge that rather than helping the people, in a number of areas the troops are intimidating villagers, scaring them away from their villages, looting their homes, and stealing food. They called on the military to implement an immediate ceasefire. In a moment, we will be joined in our studio by two Acehnese refugees, but first we turn to some of the voices from yesterday’s protest.

  • Eddie Suheri, Acehnese journalist.
  • Aidel Abdul, Acehnese political refugee
  • Cut Zahara, Acehnese political refugee
  • Munawar Zainal, an Acehnese student activist with the Aceh Center in Pennsylvania.
  • Teuku Hendra, an Acehnese student and an activist with the Aceh Center.

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

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we’ll be joined by two Acehnese refugees in this country. They’re in our studio today. But first, a few of those who are outside the U.N. Mission. This is Eddie Suheri, who is an Acehnese journalist who got political asylum in the United States. He’s a student now in New York City.

EDDIE SUHERI: So, we are here today to let them know — to let the world know that aid that they send to Indonesia is not received by people in need. So — and according to my family and one — and an activist that I called to contact to in Banda Aceh, and they said that, no, Indonesian military asked people to show their ID, and a letter from the administrator in order to have — to get food — to get aid. So, it doesn’t make sense, because in this situation, they shouldn’t ask for that, and you know how many people who still have ID? So, very ridiculous, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Suheri, an Acehnese refugee, now in New York City going to LaGuardia College. We now turn to Aidel Abdul, who — his plea to the world community not to give aid to the Indonesian government.

AIDEL ABDUL: I’d like to tell to the world, please don’t give aid to Indonesian government. It’s — you know, it’s going to mean nothing. The money going — I mean is not going to our people. It’s going to be corrupted by the peoples in the Indonesian government. Please, please. Enough is enough. Our people is starving. Our people is dying now.

AMY GOODMAN: Who should get the aid?

AIDEL ABDUL: People who are a victim — tsunami victims [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: That was Aidel Abdul, speaking in front of the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations. We turn now to Cut Zahara , who could not bear to think about almost having lost her younger brother in the disaster in Aceh.

CUT ZAHARA: My brother, the youngest one, was missing for two days. And it’s — that is make me almost, you know, crazy to think about that, and thank God he come home on Tuesday and he survived.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Cut Zahara, speaking outside the United Nations yesterday, talking about her younger brother, and the fact that although they feared that he was lost, he did survive. But Cut Zahara’s other brother did not survive. He was not, though, a victim of the tsunami. Zahara’s older brother is Jafar Siddiq Hamzah. He was a human rights lawyer who lived in the United States and who returned to Aceh to help people in his homeland. He was disappeared on August 5, 2000. Yesterday in front of the United Nations, Zahara described the condition in which her older brother, Jafar’s, body was found.

CUT ZAHARA: When we found it — the people found it, not us, — it not only one body, but another fourth body. So they found five bodies. The villagers found five bodies. And those bodies is naked, no clothes at all, and the hands and feet was wrapped.

AMY GOODMAN: Was tied?

CUT ZAHARA: Tied. So, yeah, we can see that our body is — has been tortured that because of the torture.

AMY GOODMAN: Was his face cut?

CUT ZAHARA: I’m not sure about that, because the face is already like, dry, you know? When we think about — I cannot imagine how his face in that time. Because I want to keep his face as the face I know as my brother. [crying] So — yeah. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what message do you have for the international community now?

CUT ZAHARA: We really — First, we really thank you for helping us, because we know you do your best to help Acehnese right now. But we warn you, you know, to keep doing that, not just for tsun — to, you know — for the tsunami situation, but please help us to start over.

AMY GOODMAN: Cut Zahara, asking for people to help the Indonesian people, the Acehnese, to start over. She, too, was at the protest, calling for aid groups not to give money to the Indonesian military, but to give it to human rights groups in the area, helping the Acehnese people.

We’re joined in the studio by two refugees from Aceh, Munawar Zainal and Teuka Hendra. Munawar Zainal is an Acehnese student activist who runs the Aceh Center in Pennsylvania. Teuka Hendra is also an Acehnese student. His mother is very well known in Aceh, Cut Nur Asikin. She was a women’s rights leader in Aceh. She was imprisoned by the Indonesian government, held in the prison in Banda Aceh. Since the tsunami, her body has not been found.

You know, as Cut Zahara was speaking about her brother, Jafar, who wasn’t a victim of the tsunami but who died several years before, his body found wrapped in barbed wire, his face cut, I remembered that Jafar was a guest on Democracy Now! a few years ago, actually talking about ExxonMobil and talking about the — what happens to the Acehnese people with the Indonesian military that is protecting the ExxonMobil gas fields. Munawar Zainal, you knew Jafar?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: Yeah. I met him in Banda Aceh in 2000; and before he disappeared, he also worked with me in Banda Aceh. We are working together. Because when he back to Aceh, he coordinates the activists there and we are working together to internationalize the issue of Aceh.

AMY GOODMAN: And what has happened to your family now since the tsunami?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: I lost twenty of my extended families, and my mother safe. And I don’t know the —

AMY GOODMAN: Your mother is safe?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: Yeah, and — But I don’t know the fate of all the family that living just in the coastal area of Pidie.

AMY GOODMAN: You come from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: Yes. I’m living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

AMY GOODMAN: Why there and not Aceh?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: I’m still an activist in Aceh. And then we are working for the democracy in Aceh, and also for the self-determination for the people of Aceh. Because of our activities, the Indonesian military put us in the operation target. For example, many of the friend working with SIRA got arrested by the Indonesian military and also got killed by the Indonesian military.


MUNAWAR ZAINAL: SIRA is Aceh Referendum Information Center, and the leader of SIRA also arrested by the Indonesian military and they put him in jail for five years, and he sent to Java island.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did you end up here?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: And then after they targeting the human rights activists, and I am one of the subjects of their terrorization and then they terrorized me and my family, and then —


MUNAWAR ZAINAL: By — by visiting my mom and telling the family that if I am not surrender myself to the military post, they will rape my mom and they will kidnap my mom. So, my mom and also other friends from the activists tell me that — to escape from Indonesia as soon as possible. And also in Jakarta at that time I coordinized — I coordinized the population of Acehnese in Jakarta to demonstrate against Indonesian military abuses in Aceh.

AMY GOODMAN: Teuka Hendra. Your mother, you can tell us about Cut Nur Asikin?

TEUKA HENDRA: Yeah, my mom is Cut Nur Asikin and she activist working for democracy in Aceh. And she was the leader of the speaker in the front of the referendum rally in Banda Aceh.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we’ve seen, and I think for many in the world, for the first time, Banda Aceh, and the picture of the large mosque there. Now it’s just devastated, the area outside of the mosque, but that was the area of the largest protest, I believe, Indonesia has seen, is that right —


AMY GOODMAN: Just a few years ago?

TEUKA HENDRA: And my moms — she died by the tsunami, and nobody can find her body now.

AMY GOODMAN: Where was she?

TEUKA HENDRA: In the jail.

AMY GOODMAN: She was in the Banda Aceh jail?

TEUKA HENDRA: In the Banda Aceh Lhok Nga.

AMY GOODMAN: What was she sentenced for? Why was she in jail?

TEUKA HENDRA: Because she a political activist in Banda Aceh, and she wanted referendum for Aceh. And she got eleven year, arrested by Indonesian government. And when the tsunami coming, the jail got broke very bad, and nobody can find — can find her body yet.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you come to this country, when she was in jail or before?

TEUKA HENDRA: Before her in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you come here?

TEUKA HENDRA: When 2001, my family got be target by Indonesian government. That’s why I’m escaped to — from Banda Aceh to United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Why didn’t your mother leave also?

TEUKA HENDRA: Because we got — my — my young brother and my sister still in Indonesia, but in the other place from Aceh. My mother have to go to Indonesia and go to the United States to take care of us.

AMY GOODMAN: But your mother stayed?

TEUKA HENDRA: In Indonesia when — like, a couple of months, and she got arrested by the Indonesian government.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, she couldn’t leave?


AMY GOODMAN: In Washington, we are still joined by Bama Athreya of the International Labor Rights Fund. The protest yesterday, there was a very strong call for relief groups not to give money to the Indonesian government, to the Indonesian military, but to work with Acehnese and Indonesian human rights groups. What is your sense, Bama of what relief organizations are doing, because so many of them work through the governments?

BAMA ATHREYA: [inaudible] — organizations have had limited access to Aceh, and one of our main concerns is that the relief groups need to have much better direct access. Frankly, they don’t need the Indonesian military to deliver the aid. Yes, we know that roads have been washed out, that infrastructure has been destroyed; but, let’s face it, groups like the Red Cross have a long, long history of going into disaster situations and being able to create and set up the sort of infrastructure that’s needed to deliver food, medicine, et cetera. We are pushing now, and you know we think that relief groups as well need to be very vocal about demanding direct access to be able to deliver the relief themselves. That’s the only way to insure that it’s not diverted into the wrong hands, that the military doesn’t sit on stockpiles or otherwise deny relief to the people who need it most.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask our guests in the studio that very question. The issue of how people who are in the direst need right now should be helped. Many would argue that because the military is all throughout Aceh, they’re in the best position to be able to provide aid. What do you think about that?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: That’s not true, because the Indonesian military actually, they can do more. They got [inaudible] and they can drop the assistance to the people of Aceh. But until the fifth day of the tsunami, the assistance still not coming to western part of Aceh.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this issue that we are now hearing that people raised yesterday outside the Indonesian Mission to the U.N., that the Indonesian military’s asking for ID cards before they will give food to someone. What are these ID cards?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: Right. They also not just asking the ID card, also they conducted the sweeping. So, far example, people from eastern part or northern part of Aceh, they want to visit their family in Banda Aceh, when they — they pass the military checkpoint and they still are asking the ID from the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what, if you’re a survivor of a tsunami, you may not have your ID with you?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: That’s right. Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: But what is the significance of the ID? Who has it and who doesn’t have it?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: In Aceh, the Indonesian military since the martial law, they are imposing the special ID for the Acehnese. Every Acehnese must have a special ID that different with another ID in Indonesia. And anybody that doesn’t have the ID, they will be accused as a Free Aceh Movement member and they will be subject of intimidation and also torture by the military.

AMY GOODMAN: So they’re accused of being rebels?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And so the Indonesian military is using this now as a way to flush out — to figure out who is sympathizers with the rebels and who isn’t?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: Yeah. That’s right. And also, it’s very interesting in this condition, all the assistance must distributed through the T.N.I.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Indonesian military?

MUNAWAR ZAINAL: The Indonesian military and it’s not — it’s not help the Acehnese, because limited — tool — I mean, the military, they don’t have enough tools for that. For this, we are thanking the Americans by sending the USS Abraham Lincoln, and they can directly involved in assisting the Acehnese. And also the condition of the assistance. It stopped in the airport outside Aceh, especially in Jakarta and Medan. And if Indonesian military and Indonesian government withdrew the — I mean, they lift the martial law in Aceh and they open Aceh unrestrictly, it will be helping Acehnese much, much more than this.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. Munawar Zainal and Teuka Hendra for being with us, both Acehnese refugees here in the United States, part of a small community of Acehnese refugees that are here. And also, I want to thank Derek Baxter and Bama Athreya, from the International Labor Rights Fund in Washington, D.C. Both involved in the lawsuit against ExxonMobil, and its gas operation in Aceh. Again, we invited ExxonMobil to join us. They declined.

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