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Martial Law in Aceh (Indonesia)


article - SchNEWS,  11 July 2003

On May 19th, the Indonesian government declared martial law in Aceh, the resource-rich province in North Sumatra, and since then has been busy doing what it does best: bombing, massacring, beating, torturing and raping terrified civilians.

Despite the fact that the majority of Acehnese want independence the Jakarta government has just announced that supporters and members of the Aceh independence movement (GAM) will be charged with treason. On Wednesday June 21st, members of GAM were gunned down. There is a news blackout and Human Rights activists are in grave danger.

The Indonesian government has been at war in Aceh for 27 years with more than 5,000 civilian deaths since the conflict began.

The imposition of martial law followed the cessation of hostilities agreement on December 9th 2002 - the only real glimpse of peace the traumatised Acehnese nation has had.

And guess who's providing the sophisticated weaponry the US-trained local military (TNI) are deploying against defenceless villagers? Yep, those heroes of the war against terror, Tony and George.

Scorpion tanks, Hawk aircraft (both British made), OV-10 Bronco counter-insurgency planes and F-16 fighter planes (from the US) are among the 'sophisticated' weaponry being used to 'shock and awe' (not to mention totally destroy) them pesky peasants right now.

All this despite the fact that the duplicitous Blair government came to power in 1997 pledging 'not to permit sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression.'

With Robin Cook at the Foreign office, the fledgling Labour government sold 16 hawk jets to Indonesia in 1997 claiming the deal had been agreed by the previous Tory government and couldn't be blocked for 'legal reasons'.

They didn't seem to feel the need to make any excuses however in 2002 when they announced a 20-fold increase in arms sales to Indonesia since 2000 - from £2m to nearly £41m! And last week, while the Indonesian government was deploying Scorpion tanks and Hawk jets against the civilian population in Aceh, the British government announced that it intended to increase arms sales to Indonesia yet further.

Goodies being packaged up for export include components for military training aircraft, rocket launchers, tanks and armoured personnel carriers. It seems British arms exporters are expanding outward from their 'traditional' market in the Middle East and establishing a nice little niche for themselves in Asia.

Last year the Foreign Office declared there was "no evidence" that any British military equipment had ever been used for counter-insurgency or repression in Indonesia. Yeah right! Here's a few well-documented instances: 1975 - Indonesia used UK armoured vehicles in invasion of East Timor; 1998 - Scorpions used on the streets of Jakarta to put down civilian unrest; 1999 - Hawk aircraft used over Dili, capital of East Timor... the list goes on.

Last week Foreign Officer minister Mike O'Brien responded to the international outcry over the current use of British weaponry in Aceh by promising "an investigation". Nothing for the brutal TNI to fear there then, because the British government doesn't want to do anything that would upset its lucrative arms trade with Indonesia.


But of course the war against Aceh - like the alarmingly similar war Indonesia waged against East Timor - is not just about independence.

Nor is the predatory interest of the US and UK limited to selling military hardware. Aceh, like East Timor, is extremely rich in resources (as is the whole area) and Exxon-Mobil control most of their oil and gas fields.

Incredibly, Exxon-Mobil provides the TNI with "economic and material support" in exchange for their forceful protection of its vast plant and refinery in Aceh. If Aceh got independence the Acehnese would also get control of the oil and gas fields ... you get the picture. The GAM and Washington-based International Labour Rights Fund accuse Exxon of complicity in TNI murder, kidnapping and rape of Acehnese civilians.

Comparisons with East Timor are inevitable. East Timor finally became an independent country on May 20th 2002 - but not until a third of the entire population had lost their lives in the struggle against the Indonesian occupation which started in 1975.

Jakarta's violent oppression of East Timor was encouraged and backed by consecutive US administrations, with Clinton in 1998 describing the murderous President Suharto as "our kind of guy." It was felt that American oil company interests were better catered for by the U.S. backed Indonesian government than an independent East Timor.

As in Aceh, US and UK military hardware was used to oppress the East Timorese population for the best part of 26 years. Even after the 1999 UN-run referendum returned an overwhelming vote in favour of independence, the TNI went on revenge rampages slaughtering civilians and destroying buildings. Another example of the flagrant disregard of the UN by the US and the UK.

Tapol - the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign - together with the Campaign against the Arms Trade and 90 other Human rights organisations around the world are calling for an international arms embargo on Indonesia and an immediate end to military operations in Aceh.

more info - tel - +44 (0)20 8771 2904 -

- SchNEWS  (11 July 2003)

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revised 18 November 2005