Jan 24, 2005
The Indonesian military has told foreign aid workers that if they want to travel outside the two main cities in the Aceh province to help tsunami victims, they must get a special permit and be escorted by the military. Indonesian officials say this is necessary for the aid workers' own safety, because they could be attacked or kidnapped by rebels.
Nobody believes this. So far, no incident involving rebels and aid workers has been reported from Aceh, where about 40 food trucks have been traveling every day. And everybody knows why the Indonesian military wants to keep the area off limits and increase its presence there: for the past 30 years, the Indonesian military has been fighting a civil war against the separatist Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM.
In fact, Aceh was already sealed off before the December 26 tsunami. In May 2003, the Indonesian army invaded Aceh with 40,000 troops. Human rights organizations have reported severe abuse of civilians at the hands of the military. The military targets the population as a way to attack the GAM.
The Indonesian military has a long history of repression, at times extremely brutal. It is estimated that the military killed more than one million people in the 1960s, when the government went after the workers' unions and separatist organizations under the pretext of "fighting communism." In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that had become independent. Over 200,000 people, or one-third of the population there, were killed during two decades of Indonesian occupation.
The whole time, the United States armed and trained the Indonesian military. In 1992 the U.S. said it would stop military aid to Indonesia after the news media widely publicized the army's killing of protesters in East Timor. But that certainly didn't mean a loosening of the ties between the two governments. Using September 11th as a pretext, the U.S. announced that it would start to train Indonesian officers again, in the name of the "war on terror." And now, after the tsunami, the U.S. said it has relaxed some of the restrictions on the sale of military equipment to Indonesia – in the name of helping the aid effort. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who visited Indonesia a few days after the military announced the restrictions on travel in Aceh, suggested that Congress should further ease the restrictions on U.S. training and arms sales to Indonesia.
In other words, as the Indonesian government is trying to use the tsunami aid as an excuse to increase its presence, and repression, in Aceh's countryside, the U.S. is also trying to use the tsunami as a pretext to help the Indonesian military carry out that repression.
For the 400,000 Aceh residents who have been uprooted by the tsunami, the aid effort amounts to just a drop in the bucket. But, above and beyond the tsunami, the population of Aceh is faced with another, permanent disaster: poverty, imposed on the population by the brutal Indonesian ruling class, with the help of its big brother, U.S. imperialism.