Did anyone notice the uncanny similarities between the recent U.S.-led war
in Iraq and Indonesia in its crackdown of Aceh?
Last week, the peace agreement between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM)
and Indonesian government collapsed and Indonesia's President Megawati
Sukarnoputri imposed a state of martial law in the remote province,
ordering tens of thousands of troops to militarily crush the guerrilla force.
Indonesia's foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda, seems to see the connection
between Aceh and Iraq, quoted by the BBC as saying "Honestly, what we are
doing or will do in Aceh is much less than the American power that
was deployed in Iraq."
A spokesman for Mr. Wirayuda said that "Iraq may cause some pause in
criticism against us among governments who readily used force."
The United States seems not to be making the connection between its actions
and the military prerogatives of other countries. U.S. State Department
spokesperson Richard Boucher indicated that both sides of the conflict in
Indonesia had not explored every peaceful alternative at the Tokyo
negotiations, seemingly oblivious to the U.S. policy of "do as I say, not
as I do."
Prior to the war in Iraq, the international community overwhelmingly
supported dialogue and international weapons inspectors through the United
Nations to root out any weapons of mass destruction that Iraq might have
been hiding. The United States preferred military action to negotiations,
and against the better judgment of the United Nations and most allies,
proceeded with the invasion.
In Aceh, too, negotiations and dialogue had been underway through the Henry
Dunant Center (HDC) which had brokered a peace deal that included a
monitoring agency comprised of representatives from the Indonesian
government, the Free Aceh Movement and the HDC. The United States and Japan
had provided ample financial backing to the monitoring agency, called the
Joint Security Committee, and have been invested in finding a non-military
solution to the problem in Aceh.
Indonesia has complete support from every country in the world for its
sovereignty over Aceh. No secession is seriously at hand and the world was
actively engaged in disarming the rebels and negotiating a solution. The
Indonesian government and military, following in the footsteps of the
United States, steamrolled through international pleading, trashed the
peace talks and launched a
military crack down of Aceh.
Besides arresting the negotiators, the military campaign started with a
dramatic photo opportunity as the Indonesian military parachuted hundreds
of soldiers into the Banda Aceh airport, a location they already
controlled. Why didn't they just disembark out of a landed plane. This
stunt rivals the grandiose rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq.
However, staged photo-ops are only one way to manipulate a "free
media". Fifty Indonesian journalists have been embedded in the Indonesian
military (TNI), a cadre of individuals whose newspapers largely support the
Indonesian military action in Aceh. It appears that in Aceh, as in Iraq,
mainstream media has surrendered its perspective and impartiality by
becoming the public relations arm of bloodthirsty governments.
Like the USA, Indonesia also uses the label of terrorism to validate its
war on Aceh. A senior advisor of President Sukarnoputri said that
separatist movements, like the GAM, could now be considered terrorist
groups. I wonder how she would label the the United States revolutionary
A major component of the U.S.-led war on Iraq was control of Iraq's oil.
The war in Aceh also has similar subtexts. The gas-rich area of
northwestern Sumatra houses a huge Exxon-Mobil gas field which is at the
heart of the controversy. Acehnese universally claim that revenues from
natural resources found in Aceh are distributed unequally to the benefit of
the Indonesian government.
To complicate matters, the Exxon-Mobil plant is guarded by the Indonesian
military which, according to human rights groups, receives upwards of
$100,000 per month for security services from the corporation. In a dual
role, the TNI forces is massacring civilians while protecting the interests
of multi-national enterprise.
The TNI is using U.S.-made military equipment in Aceh that it acquired
prior to the U.S. Congressional ban on military sales, according to Human
Rights Watch. While currently not supplying the Indonesian military with
weapons, last year the House and Senate Appropriations Committees voted to
restart the International Military Education and Training for
Indonesia akin to the training that Latin American soldiers receive at the
School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA.
The Indonesian troops have drawn lessons from the US military doctrine of
"overwhelming force" General Endriartono Sutarto told his troops to fight
the rebels "until your last drop of blood," telling them that "you are
trained to kill, so wipe them out."
What concerns many humanitarian groups in Aceh and the international
community is that civilians, and human rights workers, are already being
killed in this renewed war. An estimated 10,000 innocent people have been
killed in the 26-year-old fight for independence, and according to recent
UNICEF figures, 23,000 children have been displaced. Plans for massive
civilian relocation camps trouble many people concerned with human rights
violations in the region.
With disturbing parallels from the U.S.-led invasion Iraq, the Indonesian
invasion last week could signal a dangerous trend in international affairs.
Has diplomacy become a disingenuous euphemism for placating other
countries' hopes for peaceful resolution of disputes and flouting the rule
of international law until the military is good and ready to attack?
How many other countries will resort to force rather than dialogue?
Leah C. Wells worked in Aceh in 2002 on a peace curriculum called Program
Pendidikan Damai, and has visited Iraq three times since 2001. She may be
contacted at email@example.com.