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Aceh Peace Agreement Leaves Indonesian Military in Place

StoryAugust 15, 2005
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A peace accord is signed between the Indonesian government and the Acehnese rebels. The deal disarms only one side, leaving the Indonesian military in place. We speak with award-winning journalist and activist Allan Nairn. [includes rush transcript]

The Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, signed a peace agreement today in Helsinki that brings to a close nearly thirty years of armed conflict on the island. Under the deal, GAM will disarm and be allowed to form a recognized political party. However, that party will not be allowed to seek a referendum on Acehnese independence from Indonesia.

  • Malik Mahmood, GAM chief negotiator

Journalist Allan Nairn who has long been covering Aceh and East Timor wrote on his blog today, “If [the Acehnese] continue to speak for referendum they will likely continue to die, but they may now get something for it, since the fog of two-sided combat will presumably no longer obscure the one-sided repression by [the Indonesian military].”

The Indonesian government hailed the agreement as a beacon of peace in Aceh.

  • Hamid Aaluddin, Indonesian Justice Minister
  • Allan Nairn, award-winning journalist and activist. His article on the Aceh peace agreement can be found at

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is GAM chief negotiator Malik Mahmood.

MALIK MAHMOOD: We come to this day at the conclusion of six months of talks aimed at achieving a peace agreement for the future of Aceh. But more importantly, we come to this day after almost 30 years of GAM’s struggle for the liberation of the people of Aceh. We come to this day, after almost three decades of military violence and repressions against the people of Aceh. The people of Aceh have a long and proud tradition of resisting aggressions from outsiders, and we have a long and proud tradition of justice. The saga that we have wished for this many years has been to achieve justice for the people of Aceh. There has not been peace in Aceh because there has been no justice in Aceh.

What we hope we have achieved with the signing of this peace agreement is the beginning of a process that will be bring justice to the people of Aceh. Justice means insuring that the people have a voice and that they are listened to and their wishes are followed. This means that the creation of a political system that encourages freedom of speech, many opinions, and the ability to fully participate in and be represented by that process. That is, ladies and gentlemen, the only way to insure peace in Aceh is through the implementation of a genuine democracy. Genuine democracy does not restrain the creation of political parties. It encourages the creation of political parties. Genuine democracy does not limit the range of ideas that inform those parties. It encourages the full flowering of ideas. And genuine democracy does not bow in the face of violence and injustice. It is the means of ending violence and injustice.

AMY GOODMAN: GAM chief negotiator, Malik Mahmood. The Indonesian government hailed the agreement as a beacon of peace in Aceh. This is the Indonesian Justice Minister Hamid Aaluddin.

HAMID AALUDDIN: Ladies and gentlemen, with this peace accord, we are hoping that no more children become orphans. We cannot afford our women to become widows. Parents will not lose their lovely children anymore. Tears and blood must be stopped. Sadness must be ended. We have to say clearly and loudly, no more, and no more, and no way.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Indonesian Justice Minister. As we turn now to award-winning journalist and activist, Allan Nairn, who has written about the Aceh peace agreement and has covered Aceh and East Timor for many years. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Allan.

ALLAN NAIRN: Thanks. Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Talk about the significance of this day, of the peace accord between the GAM and the Indonesian government.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s not really a peace accord, since the Indonesian military and police, which have been the main violators of peace, they retain control, they retain their weapons. Their officers will not be prosecuted. Only one side disarms under this deal. The Acehnese GAM, they get farmland, they get amnesty and they get the right to form a local political party. But in exchange, they in effect take a political vow of silence. The thing that they have stood for, their reason for existence, independence for Aceh, or at least a referendum for Aceh, under which the Acehnese get the right to hold a free vote on their political future, the new GAM political party will not be allowed to call for that under Indonesian law.

So, it’s basically a victory for the TNI; the Indonesian military remains the sovereign in Aceh. The military will retain their troops in Aceh. They will still have — the troops will still have their weapons. They will still have the right to use them. They’re withdrawing some troops, but since it now remains — Aceh remains still their country, they can bring them back later whenever they want, and even in the transition period of the next few months, when there will be about 200 foreign observers, some of the most notorious Indonesian military and police units, the Intel people who run the torture centers, the air force which has bombed the villages, BRIMOB units which have done rapes and abductions at checkpoints, they’re all allowed to stay as long as their troops are technically reclassified as being organic troops. And above and outside the deal, the Kopassus, U.S.-trained special forces, the most feared group that specializes in kidnapping and torture, both local activists and military people agree that they will be staying in Aceh and continuing to do their operations undercover.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, under the agreement, on human rights, it says a human rights court and a truth and reconciliation commission will be established in Aceh to reveal past atrocities and bring closure to the war-torn society, and Indonesia will grant amnesty to all GAM members beginning in late August and free thousands of Acehnese jailed across the Indonesian archipelago.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s a good thing they are freeing the prisoners. It’s not clear how many, though, will be freed. Some estimates are it will just be in the hundreds. The human rights court has no specified powers, same with the truth and reconciliation commission. The basic fact for Aceh is that the Indonesian military and police will — first, that they will still be living under the repressive laws that governed all of Indonesia that originally derived from the Dutch colonists. And those laws prohibit free speech. They prohibit anything that can be interpreted as expressing hatred for the leaders or the government of Indonesia. And most importantly, Aceh will still be de facto occupied by the Indonesian military and police.

But there is one big change under this deal, and that is it puts the armed GAM out of business, and that’s a good thing. They should have — GAM should have disarmed a long time ago. This now will clarify the situation. If now people in Aceh choose to speak out in favor of referendum, they’re still liable to be killed. They run the same risk as before, but now at least there’s a chance they won’t be dying in vain, because up to now, the deaths of civilians, which is the basic fact of life in Aceh, had been obscured by the two-sided combat between the GAM and the Indonesian military. That’s what’s gotten all of the attention, obscuring the one-sided repression. But now that the GAM is out of the way, if Acehnese are still brave enough to try to stand up and speak and call for a free vote, and if they’re again struck down and imprisoned, there’s at least a chance now that their sacrifice will get some outside attention. And that outside attention is what’s needed. That’s what made it possible for Timor to win freedom. That’s what the Timor case led to the cutting of U.S. military aid to Indonesia, which helped facilitate the downfall of the previous dictator, Suharto.

But in the end, I think whether the deal ends up helping or hurting the situation really depends on what’s done by the U.S. and Europe and Australia and the other outside powers, the executive branches in those powers. If they use this deal as an excuse to restore military and police aid and increase military and police aid to the TNI and the POLRI of Indonesia, that will strengthen those institutions. It will make matters worse. It will be a catastrophe both for Aceh and also for Papua in the eastern part of Indonesia, where 15,000 coast guard troops have been recently sent in, where there’s mass killing of civilians, also the north and central islands of Indonesia, where the military and police have been fomenting Christian-Muslim grassroots violence. If this is used as an excuse to restore aid, it will end up making matters worse. So, a lot is hanging on the actions of the U.S., and it was previously grassroots activism that got the U.S. working through Congress to cut the military aid, and people have to do that again now, or this will be a disaster for Aceh and Indonesia.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, what role did the tsunami play in this?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it was, you know, of course, one of the greatest disasters in history. It killed more than 150,000 Acehnese, wiped out entire villages. It also killed many of the GAM, many of their field fighters. It also brought in billions in international — pledged international aid. That affected the strategy of General Susilo, the Indonesian President. He saw that if they could get that aid continuing flowing into Indonesia, there will be vast possibilities for corruption, for skimming of funds for the Indonesian government in Aceh and the military occupying Aceh, and there have already been extensive reports of this.

Susilo’s plan apparently is to use the money they can skim from the reconstruction aid to compensate the military people, the generals, for the losses they will suffer by pulling out of Aceh — well, not by pulling out of Aceh, but by stop — agreeing to end combat in Aceh. Aceh has provided the vast corruption funds from illegal timber, from prostitution, from extortion, from offshore fishing rackets that use child labor, all sorts of things. Those will be a little less lucrative now in non-combat conditions. But in exchange, the idea apparently is they will be able to get more foreign reconstruction aid, and most importantly, General Susilo hopes, restored military and police aid. That will then strengthen the TNI and POLRI nationally.

So the tsunami in a way set the stage for Susilo agreeing to make that deal. And from the GAM side, I think it convinced the GAM, well, finally, they had to listen to the entreaties from civilians who were saying, look, by having an armed movement, you’re only making matters worse. You’re not helping the situation. Please lay down your arms, and the GAM, weakened by the tsunami, finally listened to them.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Allan Nairn on a wholly different subject, we just have about 30-45 seconds, you have extensively covered Haiti. The latest news is that Jodel Chamblain, number two man in FRAP, has been released from jail by the U.S.-backed interim Haitian government. Your response? He was in Haiti.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s outrageous. The FRAP, a paramilitary group, which killed thousands of activists from the Little Church, the grassroots movement in Haiti, the FRAP was a creation of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. They were formed — Emmanuel Constant, the man who was number one had formed the group, did so at the behest of the local U.S. Intelligence Agency attaché. Constant told me that a number of years ago when U.S. intelligence people confirmed it. And Constant was carried on the payroll of the C.I.A. Chamblain, one of the most notorious hands-on killers in Haiti, was part of that U.S.-backed apparatus, and now he’s been freed, and they call this democracy. If there were some kind of civilized legal system working in the world, he would face real justice, as would the U.S. officials from the C.I.A. and the D.I.A., and hire in the Executive Branch.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, Allan. I want to thank you for being with us, Allan Nairn, journalist and activist. His website

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