Indonesian Gov’t Veers Rightward; Steps up Military Attacks in Aceh

As we go to press, Indonesia has plunged into a new political crisis. The legislature has begun impreachment proceedings against the president, Abdul Rahman Wahid. In response, he has called his supporters into the street to demonstrate on his behalf and even threatened civil war and the breakup of the country if he is removed.

The immediate beneficiary of Wahid’s impreachment is expected to be Megawaiti Sukarnoputri, the other principal leder of the “democratic opposition” to the dictatorship ousted two years ago.

The reasons for such a violent split between two previously allied politicians are far from evident. What is clear is that the bourgeois governments that have taken over from the former imperialist-backed dictator, Suharto, have been moving steadily to the right, and that a barometer of their rightward movement has been their increasingly repressive attitude to the struggles for self-determination in parts of the archipelago. Although Wahid himself has taken a more and more aggressive position toward these movements, he has been generally considered more compromising than Megawati.

In this context, we are reprinting an article from TAPOL, an Indonesian political prsioners defense group, about the military campaign initiated in mid-March in Aceh, a region of Sumatra that has long fought for self-determination. We have abridged it slightly for space reasons.

There are strong reasons to believe that the armed forces decision to urge the Wahid cabinet to agree to the launching of a “limited military operation” in Aceh is closely related to pressure from ExxonMobil, the U.S. company which produces natural gas from the Arun gas field in Aceh.

ExxonMobil’s announcement that it was suspending operations in Aceh because of the security situation came only fours days before the announcement in Jakarta on March 12 that the Wahid cabinet had formally branded GAM [Free Aceh Movement] as a “separatist movement,” giving the armed forces the go-ahead to carry out these new military operations.

ExxonMobil is by far Indonesia’s largest producer of LNG [natural gas] and accounts for 30 percent of Indonesia’s foreign exchange earnings from the oil and gas sector. There is no doubt that the suspension of LNG exports is a serious setback for the Indonesian economy at a time of continuing economic crisis and a foreign debt of $140 billion and that it provided the military with a powerful argument in favor of launching these operations, reversing the policy favored by President Wahid to solve the conflict in Aceh by means of negotiations with GAM.

The military has also been able, by means of this coup de grace, to re-establish its leading role in security operations in Aceh, which, since early 2000, have been under the overall command of the Indonesian police force.

For several weeks prior to the switch in policy, senior generals were speaking very publicly about the fact that elite troops from Kostrad and other sections of the armed forces were receiving special training in anti-guerrilla combat, street combat, and combat in residential areas, in readiness for dispatch to Aceh. So it is clear that preparations have been underway for some time.

The police-led Operasi Cinta Meunasah (love-the-mosque operation), in which territorial troops and non-organic reinforcements from outside Aceh were involved, has now been replaced by an operation under military command….

Reports from Jakarta today focus heavily on the number of troops that have been dispatched to Aceh specifically for the purpose of providing ExxonMobil with security protection. But it is not as though this is anything new. The company has for years been given security protection by the Indonesian army. A recent investigation by the human rights organisation Kontras-Aceh concluded that the company spends Rp 5 billion a month ($500,000) for this special service. Their conclusion was based on the number of troops deployed to protect the company times the cost per day (Rp40,000) for the upkeep of each soldier….

For people living in the vicinity of the company, the presence of these troops has a direct bearing on the level of human rights abuses, some of which are known to have been perpetrated within the grounds of the company.

Moreover, while Jakarta regards the company as such a major factor in providing foreign exchange and revenue for the Indonesian state, the economic benefits for the local people are virtually zero….

The confusion surrounding the latest deployment of troops to defend the company suggests that the TNI [Indonesian Army] wants to conceal the fact that it is conducting these new operations specifically at the behest of the U.S.-based company.

This could make the armed forces appear to be acting at the beck and call of a foreign power and damage their credentials as a force that works solely in the national interest….

It is important to know the extent to which ExxonMobil and the Bush administration have been instrumental in the decision to deploy specially trained troops in order to further intensify the level of military operations.

Even at their present level, dozens of lives are being lost every week and thousands of people are fleeing their homes as troops loot and burn villages with impunity.

An embargo on the sale of arms to Indonesia is still in place in the U.S., which the Bush administration is unable to reverse because it cannot act against the wishes and resolutions of Congress.

It would be an irony indeed if, with such an embargo in force, Washington is nevertheless able to collude with the Indonesian armed forces in its determination to impose a military solution on the people of Aceh.


TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, 111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Croydon CR7 8HW, UK. Phone: 44-020-8771-2904.

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