Aceh after the tsunami

Submitted by Anon on 4 March, 2005 - 2:32

Zely Ariane is the secretary-general of the People’s Democratic Party (PRD), the only openly socialist party in Indonesia. The party played a central role in the movement to overthrow Suharto in 1998. It is the only party supporting the right of the Acehnese people to self-determination. Ariane spoke to Australian socialist paper Green Left Weekly about her recent visit to Aceh.

I went back [to Aceh] as part of the mobilisation of members of SEGERA, the Aceh solidarity group, to help deal with the aftermath of the tsunami.

We mostly sent Acehnese activists because of military repression. Of course, I also visited my family in Aceh. I think there were about 1,500 people in the village; now only 15 are still living. Almost all my father’s family was killed: his mother; his brother and sisters; their children. One sister survived but she was badly injured. It is like that all along the coast.

Of the SEGERA activists in Aceh, at least six were killed and another six lost all their family and their home, including the chairperson of the main student group, Students in Solidarity with the People.

It is amazing how they looked after themselves without any help. They survived in those horrific circumstances. Most of the refugee camps, especially away from Banda Aceh, were built by the people themselves. They got together the material for the tents; set up the kitchens — with no help from the government. In some places, they are not waiting for government help, they are building homes in the new camp sites from whatever is available.

All the activists who had lost their families and homes combined together to organise themselves to help with the relief effort. We formed CARE Aceh to concentrate on this work.

We started off with about 15 volunteers, but now there are more than 50. They have spread out into the more remote areas, away from the cities, taking materials and helping set up aid depots. The money sent to SEGERA from Australian donations has been channelled to help CARE Aceh. Most of the volunteers now are working in the “closed areas”.

Parts of Aceh are areas that the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) considers to be support bases of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

They are not areas that were hit by the tsunami; they are on higher ground. But they are areas which are receiving the bulk of the refugees from the west coastal regions. Refugees are living with family and friends. This is the majority of the refugees, and getting assistance to them is difficult because they are spread out everywhere.

The trouble is that in these closed areas all aid is supposed to be deposited first with the local military command. The TNI reserves the right to distribute everything. You can be beaten or even arrested if you distribute food or other aid directly to the people.

In some areas, women were mobilised to go to apply for aid as the only way to pressure the TNI to release material. This was later depicted in the media as GAM using village women to obtain aid for GAM fighters.

There are thousands, maybe more than 10,000, non-Acehnese volunteers in Aceh now. It is the government and the TNI who are not showing any real effort. There has not been a single announcement by the TNI of how many soldiers it has mobilised to help evacuate corpses and do other relief work. I think they can’t release that information because it will reveal what a tiny percentage of the tens of thousands of soldiers in Aceh are doing relief work.

The alienation of the Acehnese people from the government in Jakarta is going to worsen.

It is not just the lack of real commitment of resources from the TNI — which has also been highlighted by comparisons with the serious aid effort by the foreign militaries.

It is also the way that the so-called reconstruction of Aceh is being discussed. Already, the big Jakarta based companies are being given contracts.

In all of this, there has been no involvement of Acehnese society. Even the Acehnese business elite has been protesting that they are not getting any projects. Both the Jakarta and Acehnese elite are out to get as much of the aid money as they can.

But the TNI is making it clear: it is completely opposed to a ceasefire. Every time the government, usually under international pressure, moved to prioritise negotiations, the TNI immediately moved to undermine it. It is in virtual revolt now against the government.

There will neither be peace nor reconstruction if society is excluded from discussions.

We do not agree either with the GAM leadership’s insistence that it can represent everybody in Aceh. This is also frustrating, especially when we know that there are many elements of GAM within Aceh itself who acknowledge the need for this broader involvement.

Abridged from Green Left Weekly

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