Sent on November 10, 1999, to the following lists: 
apakabar <>, indo chaos, 
mimbarbebas, reformasitotal, and walhi. 
(mounted 14-Nov-1999)
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What Can We Do for Aceh?

I'd like to address two propositions in the Aceh problem, which have been passing uncommented by all sides so far, as though their correctness were self evident and beyond debate.

Proposition 1: The referendum in East Timor and subsequent granting of independence to that territory encouraged the Acehnese to try to achieve the same.

This may appear prima facie to be true, but is actually far from correct. The deceptive impression of analogy between the two issues, East Timor and Aceh, is the fault of the Soeharto regime, the military, and both former and present MPR-s. It is caused by the stubborn insistence against all historical facts, that East Timor had been a legitimate province of the Republic of Indonesia. As Aceh, and Irian Jaya, and etc., etc., are also legitimate provinces of the Republic, each would then have the same right to a referendum and "independence",.....

The newly elected MPR missed an historical chance to correct this, when, based on the results of the East Timor referendum, it endorsed the territory's release into independence. Instead, it should have declared the old MPR resolution that established East Timor as 27th Indonesian province as nill and void from the very beginning, thus denying that the territory had legally ever been a province of Indonesia. Colonial oppression of other peoples is in flagrant violation of the Indonesian constitution, and occupying a neighbouring country by military force is in violation of the Five Principles of the Bandung Afro-Asian Conference. This was sufficient legal basis to repeal that old rubber-stamp MPR decision.

The problem is not just one of pure formality.

The East Timorese never fought for Indonesian independence, neither before 1945, not after 1945. They were never part of the Indonesian national movement. Not only did Indonesia not have any right on the territory of East Timor, other than the right of conquest by military aggression; the East Timorese also had no rights on Indonesia (the military therefore also have no right to allow East Timorese "militia" to use Indonesian territory for their mafioid activities, and allowing them to do so is downright treasonable).

With Aceh it is different. The Acehnese had been among the most resolute and spirited fighters for Indonesian independence in 1946-1949. Aceh was one of the few territories of the Republic, that the population successfully defended against reoccupation by the former colonial master. It is thus not so much a question of Aceh belonging to Indonesia, but of the Acehnese being co-owners of Indonesia, and ones with particularly "blue-chip" entitlement rights at that. The former military regime had not only cheated the Acehnese on their basic human and civic rights and their fair share of the revenues earned in their province, it cheated the Acehnese out of their rights on Indonesia.

That this is not just a play of words, will become clear when I return to this below.

Proposition 2: The separatist movement in Aceh was caused by denial of a fair share of the revenues and by severe violations of human and civic rights of the population by the military.

Both these factors were indeed very important, and they contributed significantly to the seriousness of the problem. But they were not the original reason of the conflict. This seems to have been originally provoked by unfair losses incurred on Acehnese business interests as a result of crony economy of the ruling Soeharto clan and corruptness of the Jakarta burocracy.

This also means, that although immediate and very intensive efforts have to be made to establish fair local share of the revenues, and reinstall the constitutional rights of the population and prosecute those responsible for past violations of these right, all this will not be enough.

And the central question brings us back to that which was elicited in the previous section: how to return to the Acehness their right on Indonesia that had been taken away from them by the previous regime.

Of course, the Acehnese must be able to make use of all available facilities throughout Indonesia, but for the greater part of the population, this is not so urgent, because if a fair share of the economic revenues will permit revitalizing local infrastucture and schooling facilities, making use of what is available in other regions of the country becomes less important.

What will not only remain important, but even increase in significance, is access to the national market. Makassarese, Buginese, Ambonese, Minangkabau, Madurese, Banjarese, Tidorese, Javanese, Menadonese, Batak, and other traders and business people are operating over the whole island republic. But Acehnese are underrepresented here. Particularly when an increased volume of capital from the increased share in revenues becomes active, it will seek more room for operation, and having the whole of Indonesia as backyard will make a great difference. And this is what I meant by Aceh having a right to the whole of Indonesia (which it would loose upon separation from the Republic).

The Free Acheh Movement (GAM) contemplates establishing a contitutional monarchy under Hasan di Tiro (descendent of the last Acehnese sultan), obviously under the impression that the territory's mineral gas and oil sources provides conditions similar to those in the Sultanate of Brunei. I am afraid, that they are cruelly mistaken, because Aceh and Brunei are totally different in economic development and social structure. Aceh has been a center of international trade since far back in the first millennium AD. The country has deeply rooted culture traditions that are connected with this involvement in the international trade over the Indian Ocean, through the Straits of Malacca, or over the Kra Isthmus and other historical cross-peninsular routes.

Any attempt to establish economic hegemony of a royal family as in Brunei would immediately lead to even greater unrest than the present one, only that it would then be Acehnese against Acehnese. The practicability of such an unchallenged hegemony under conditions prevailing in Brunei lies at the bottom of stability and economic success of that country. Aceh is different.

History has played a mean trick on the Acehnese. They have become the victims of their own success. While one neighbouring territory after the other fell into the hands of the colonial powers (Portugal, the Netherlands, Britain), Aceh continued to maintain its independence, thereby falling increasingly into regional isolation. By the end of the last century, the ports of just about the whole of Southeast Asia were "off bounds" for the Acehnese, while Buginese, Madurese, Minangkabau, Javanese, and other merchants could operate within the niches left open for them where European mercantile interests dared not venture. The well developed domestic schooling system of the Acehnese left little room to European missionary and government schooling that provided access to 20th-century technical know-how. The repressive nature of the more than three decades under Soeharto again robbed them of the enjoyment of revenues from the natural mineral resources of their territory, and placed local business interests at a great disadvantage.

One important point in the agenda for remedying this would be, to not only launch serious investigations into violations of human rights, but to also investigate possible economic criminality of "cronies" and the burocracy against Acehnese business interests since the early 1970s. One should probably also not neglect entering into consultations with the GAM to elicit grievances of their members (including, in particular, their leader, Hasan di Tiro) in this respect, and where possible, to duely compensate their past economic losses. In this, one could probably afford to give them "the benefit of the doubt" where such should be found to exist (cronies and burocrats of the former regime are extremely proficient in capitalizing on such real or declared doubts).

It would be important to apply every possible effort to not only encourage Acehnese business activity locally, but also on a Pan-Indonesian scale with the help of the increased share of the mining revenues. In this, existing interregional contacts of interest groups reflected e.g. in the distribution of voting for certain Islam-orientated parties in the last elections may prove helpful. Particularly interesting in this regard are the Unity and Development Party (PPP), the Crescent and Star Party (PBB), the Justice Party (PK) and some others, making up the so-called "Axis" block. They should be encouraged to involve Acehnese business on a national scale, so as to allow the Acehnese to draw the greatest possible profit of being part of the Indonesian community (instead of mainly suffering as a result of that so fa r).

Once Acehnese business discovers the Indonesian market and gets all the opportunities to capitalize on it, they'd be the first to indignantly protest against any suggestions that they separate from Indonesia. And considering the tremendous and truely heroic contribution of the Acehnese to our national independence, we really all owe it to them more than anything else, that they will at last enjoy being Indonesians.

Salam, Waruno

Waruno Mahdi, 
November 9, 1999.  

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