International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

May 28, 2003

May 28, 2003





**  The "only lasting solution lies in compromise" between Jakarta and the GAM rebels. 


**  The military "crackdown" will only result in "miserable and drawn-out guerrilla warfare."


**  Aceh's "lawless rebels" should have been "more flexible" in the Tokyo talks in mid-May.   


**  Jakarta will never allow independence because "without Aceh, there is no Indonesia."




Observers urge 'the resumption of talks' to avoid a 'full-scale civil war'--  The editorial consensus was that Jakarta would be "wiser to persevere with talks" than to launch a "huge military assault."  Melbourne's liberal Age emphasized that "military action is no alternative to finding a political solution," while Singapore's pro-government Straits Times hoped for "further dialogues" with GAM.  "Both sides are at fault" for the "stunning failure" of the Tokyo talks, and Hong Kong and Japanese media urged Jakarta to "return to the negotiation table." 


'There can be no decisive military solution' because of soldiers' 'abuses'--  Foreign outlets predicted "another bloody military failure."  The Indonesian military's "grand displays of military bravado" will "radicalize" GAM and the Acehnese people.  Indonesian outlets focused on how to "win the Aceh people's hearts."  The independent Jakarta Post acknowledged that "regaining Acehnese hearts and minds will take a long time," while independent Koran Tempo urged "strict control" of the military to prevent any "slaughter" of civilians.  The Indonesian military's "notorious record of abuses" explained the fear it is returning to its "traditional role of internal repression." 


GAM is 'outnumbered, outgunned and outmaneuvered'--  The conflict is due to GAM's "very irrational" refusal to "give up their plan to lead Aceh" to independence; it should have been "more pragmatic."  The conservative Australian assailed GAM's dream of a "fully independent, Islamic fundamentalist state."  Singaporean and Malaysian dailies agreed GAM "must realize there is no support...for their claims to independence."  Leftist Euro papers added that "politically influential U.S. companies" interested in "Aceh's oil and gas" would prevent any official U.S. sympathy for GAM.


Megawati 'could enjoy a boost' politically--  The Aceh war "could be a vote-winner" for Megawati, who is "eyeing a second term in next year's elections," as she is "in tune with Indonesian public opinion."  The leftist Japan Times noted that most Indonesians support "maintaining the political unity of the country" and thus Megawati's "move to put down the secessionist struggle."  A Malaysian writer stressed, "There is no way Jakarta will let Aceh go" because Aceh "is a matter of life and death" for Indonesia.  Its independence would spur "other regions to follow suit" and lead to the country's "Balkanization." 


EDITOR:  Ben Goldberg


EDITOR'S NOTE:  This analysis is based on 34 reports from 12 countries over 16 - 28 May 2003.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from their most recent date.




BRITAIN:  "Things Get Ugly As Jakarta Sends In The Troops"


John Aglionby noted in the center-left Guardian (5/23):  "The soldiers operating in the village of Jeumpa yesterday were part of Indonesia's largest military deployment since the invasion of East Timor in 1975....  The offensive began on Monday after the government gave up on a five-month ceasefire because the rebels refused to renounce their claim for independence and surrender their weapons. Troops staged grand displays of military bravado--parachuting into relatively safe areas and using bombers to blow up empty huts.  By yesterday, as events in Jeumpa, near the town of Bireuen, demonstrated, the emerging conflict was proving to be a very different, uglier battle than the military spin doctors' ideal of carefully orchestrated and controlled encounters....  In a taste of what might come, other 'government' targets have been hit in addition to schools....  So far only a handful of people have been killed....  GAM is vehemently denying it has attacked schools and is blaming small military operations units....  Gauging people's real feelings is hard. Most Acehnese give neutral answers or just shrug when asked which side they hope will win."


"Repeating The Error"


The center-left Guardian judged (Internet version) (5/21):  "Indonesia's decision to let its army loose in Aceh province is a dangerous mistake, blind to history and likely consequences.  The military has a notorious record of abuses, from East Timor to Papua to Java itself, and there is little reason to suppose it will behave better now than in earlier anti-separatist campaigns.  The deposed dictator, General Suharto, tried military repression in Aceh through most of the 1990s and while uncounted thousands were killed or displaced, he failed utterly to crush the Free Aceh Movement (Gam).  President Megawati Sukarnoputri promised a new start when she visited Aceh two years ago, apologising for past brutality.  Now it is Mrs. Megawati, accused of weak leadership and eyeing a second term in next year's elections, who is making the same mistake again.  Her army may yet embarrass her badly.  It would have been wiser to persevere with the talks with GAM leaders in Tokyo.  Concern about the military's role in Aceh and other conflicts is not confined to foreign NGOs or brave individuals such as Britain's Lesley McCulloch.  Indonesian critics also castigate their government's disgraceful failure to bring to justice those most responsible for atrocities during East Timor's war of independence.  The U.S. Congress is not silent, either....   But the White House gives priority to Indonesian cooperation in its 'war on terror.'  And politically influential U.S. companies like ExxonMobil have a big stake in Aceh's oil and gas.  As Human Rights Watch warned yesterday, 'the stage is set for gross human rights violations'."


GERMANY:  "Extinguish"


Peter Sturm concluded in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (5/21):  “Indonesia’s military is again going too far.  According to their supreme commander, the soldiers should now ‘extinguish’ the rebels in Aceh.  It remains its secret why it is so confident.  The order of the general does not bode well.  But we should also keep in mind that the opposite side is not innocent either.  The Central government gave the province of Aceh a certain degree of autonomy, which the underground movement does not want to accept and continues to demand independence.  As always in such cases, the population is not asked what it wants.  It is not understandable why Aceh’s residents should be better off in such a state.  They would be well accommodated in a federalist structured Indonesia.  The central government must now pay for the things, which, for instance, President Soeharto did in Aceh.  That is why it is only partially responsible for the current situation.  But it will not be able to win the hearts of the people with bloodthirsty announcements.”


"Revolt In Aceh"


Hinnerk Berlekamp argued in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (5/20):  “Both sides are responsible for the failure of the peace process, even though to a different degree.  At no time did the rebels give up their plan to lead Aceh back to independence....  High-ranking Indonesian military officials had doubts about the rebels' willingness to lay down arms and they were right.  But the stubbornness of the rebel movement’s leadership even is exceeded by the adamancy of the army leadership, since Indonesia’s generals had always opposed all autonomy plans for Aceh...and that is why they undermined the peace process.  The 30,000 Indonesian soldiers deployed in Aceh were not called back to their bases....  Even though the plan to declare the rebels terrorists corresponds with the zeitgeist, thus ruling out any kind of talks, it has a weak spot.  It does not coincide with the current U.S. scenarios of threat.  Washington wants Jakarta to concentrate fully on the fight against Islamic groups such as Jemajah Islamiyah, which allegedly has links to al-Qaida.  But Washington wants quiet in the Aceh province to allow the Exxon company to explore natural gas.  And this possibly without transferring six million dollars per year to the Indonesian army leadership as ‘protection money.’”


"Eastern Timor Is No Example"


Nicola Glass opined in leftist Die Tageszeitung of Berlin (5/20):  “For the military leaders who are striving for a parliamentary legitimized extension of their power, the Aceh conflict is a welcome reason before the presidential elections in 2004 to demonstrate their indispensability.  It is true that martial law was imposed by a decree issued by President Megawati, but in fact the strong military does not need government decrees to strike.  But a coup is not in the offing since a government with a weak president, who protects the military democratically, is more useful.”




SAUDI ARABIA:  "Challenges In Aceh"


The English-language Arab News contended (Internet version) (5/21):  "Yesterday’s first anniversary of East Timor’s independence must have concentrated minds wonderfully in Jakarta.  Certainly the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri is determined that no other part of the troubled archipelago nation will get away.  But the crackdown launched on Monday against separatists in the province of Aceh after the collapse of talks in Tokyo to salvage last December’s limited autonomy agreement is unlikely to solve her headaches.  It is easy to understand why she did it.  With its substantial oil and gas reserves, Aceh is a major contributor to central government funding....  Moreover, if Aceh were to follow East Timor, it would be virtually impossible to then prevent the Balkanization of Indonesia....  Both sides of the Aceh conflict blame the other for the failed Tokyo talks.  However, the Indonesian authorities wanted to them to fail.  Since coming to power, Megawati has surrounded herself with staunch nationalists; like her, armed forces chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto sees separatism as a threat to the country’s survival. He believes that separatist groups should be crushed.  With that policy now being actively pursued, it very much looks as if the failure in Tokyo was deliberately engineered....  But repression is not going to work....  If anything the crackdown will radicalize both the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the conservative Muslim Acehnese people."




AUSTRALIA:  "Why Is Aceh Different From Kosovo?"


Scott Burchill wondered in Melbourne's liberal Age (5/24):  "Delivering the 25th annual Menzies lecture last October, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer declared that 'bit by bit, leaders of governments that suppress human rights are being made to feel uncomfortable, however much they bluster and hide behind sovereignty arguments.'....  Given these comments, how should we view Downer's claim this week that renewed assaults by the Indonesian military (TNI) against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) cannot be stopped by outside intervention because Aceh 'is part of Indonesia, and the Indonesians are going to have to sort out these problems themselves?' Why should the world respect state sovereignty in South-East Asia but not in the Balkans?....  Like his predecessors, Downer seems to have a greater attachment to Indonesia's territorial integrity than many Indonesian citizens....  However, those who warn of bloody consequences if Indonesia fragments must answer a prior question: how many Indonesian lives are worth the preservation of its existing political boundaries?....  A more realistic approach is to bank on inevitable change and seek to influence developments in a favourable direction. The alternative policy betrays our wider duty to humanity....  Despite the illegitimacy of its imperial mission, the boundaries carved out by Dutch colonialists are now sacrosanct, at least in the eyes of Indonesia's southern neighbour.  Another human catastrophe beckons. As President Megawati Soekarnoputri shores up her nationalist credentials in the lead-up to next year's election, the Indonesian military is free to perform its traditional role of internal repression safe in the knowledge that the West will again avert its eyes from a slaughter."


"Make Or Break For Jakarta"


Greg Sheridan wrote in the conservative Australian (5/24):  "Aceh is set to become Indonesia's latest nightmare....  The chief victims, as always, will be Acehnese civilians. But this tragedy holds profound implications for Indonesia, for Australia and for the tenuous, rocky, difficult relationship between the two nations.  Aceh threatens to re-create one corrosive pattern of Australia-Indonesia relations....  The governments in Jakarta and Canberra try to improve the relationship, not least by working on vitally important common interests such as the fight against terrorism, only to have this blighted by Australian public opinion turning sour as a result of TNI misbehaviour. This Australian reaction then produces its own response in Indonesian public opinion and a vicious cycle sets in.  However, there are reasons for thinking this time things may play out differently. For a start, Indonesia is a different society from the Indonesia of the '80s and '90s. It is a democracy with a growing civil society and a free media.  Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri is in tune with Indonesian public opinion in pursuing a military operation in Aceh....  But public opinion can change....  Should the military operation turn catastrophic...public opinion could swing dramatically....  It is also important to note that GAM has rejected a generous autonomy package offered by Megawati's Government....  But GAM is determined to set up a fully independent, Islamic fundamentalist state.  This allows Megawati's Government to present itself, internally and internationally, as taking military action as a last resort....  Megawati is right to see the retention of Aceh as critical to the future of Indonesia....  Nationalism remains the core ideology of Megawati and profoundly important in Indonesian national life. Accompanying this nationalism is a high degree of paranoia that outside forces seek the destruction of the Indonesian state....  Today, however, the entire strategic community in Canberra, and the leadership on both sides of politics, is united in the surely correct view that there is no significant role Australia can play is this dispute, which is destined once more to become very bloody."


"Falling Into The Soeharto Trap"


The liberal Sydney Morning Herald editorialized (5/22):  “The launch this week of the biggest Indonesian military operation since the 1975 invasion of East Timor suggests an impending bloodbath in the contested northern province of Aceh.  That the huge military assault on Aceh's pro-independence guerilla forces (GAM) went ahead at all represents a stunning failure for the political process....  Both sides are at fault for the breakdown of December's fragile ceasefire and the 11th-hour peace talks in Tokyo at the weekend.....  A slim hope lies in the ongoing diplomatic efforts of the U.S., Japan and the EU, which had pushed for the last-minute Tokyo talks.  Despite the resort to overwhelming force there can be no decisive military solution in Aceh, only another bloody military failure.”


"More Bloodshed In Aceh Is No Answer"


The liberal Age asserted (5/22):  “The collapse of peace talks between representatives of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian Government has been followed by the rapid deployment of thousands of government troops.  That presages what could turn out to be a bloodbath.  The apparent decision to launch an all-out assault on rebels suggests that neither the military nor the Government has learnt much from the past....  Military action is no alternative to finding a political solution.  Instead it will serve to strengthen the hand of an Indonesian military that has often traded on the need for 'stability' achieved through the barrel of a gun....  GAM for its part must realise there is no support either within Indonesia or internationally for their claims to independence.  Somewhere lies a compromise solution that will not entirely suit either side.  Yet it could deliver the peace and freedom from fear that ordinary Acehnese crave after decades of turmoil.  The solution might lie in some form of special autonomy for the region.”


"Only Talking Can Avert Aceh Disaster"


The conservative Australian cautioned (5/21):  “The massive assault by the Indonesian Government on Acehnese separatists following the collapse of peace-talks on Sunday is an alarming development, not just for the people of Aceh, but for Indonesia, Australia and the region....  As President Megawati struggles to hold her country together, extremist groups are doing everything they can to tear it apart, including by attacks on foreigners like the Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.... Indonesia has been a model of moderate and secular Islam.  Nobody needs radical Islamist states springing up in Asia, but in containing that development, Indonesia treads a tightrope between Western and Islamic world opinion....  There is little we can do....  Lament the probable humanitarian disaster of a full-scale civil war, urge the resumption of talks, with both sides willing to negotiate on core demands, and fervently hope cool heads eventually prevail.”


CHINA (HONG KONG SAR):  "Indonesia:  Radicals Steal The Spotlight"


Phar Kim Beng contended in the leftist English-language online Asia Times (5/28):  "It is all too easy to assume that Indonesia is a hotbed of radical Islam. But this is to ignore the bigger picture, and the distinctive features of Islam as it is practiced in the world's most populous Muslim nation....  To the extent that there is radical Islamic activism of the Wahhabi variety in Indonesia, it has been concentrated in Aceh, which is fighting a separatist war. The radical Islam of Aceh has not proliferated to other parts of Indonesia. If anything, its austere Islam has remained localized, this despite its ongoing conflict with Jakarta--a 27-year quarrel that is poised to be prolonged given the collapse of the recent peace initiative."


"Asean Best Placed To Stop Aceh Bloodshed"


The independent, English-language South China Morning Post declared (5/22):  "Indonesia has ignored mediation efforts to end conflict in the separatist province of Aceh and has embarked on its biggest military campaign since the occupation of East Timor in 1975. We hope--and it can only be a hope--that Indonesia has learned the sad lessons of its military rule there."


"Aceh Talks Pointless Without Compromise"


The independent English-language South China Morning Post editorialized (5/16):  "Talks being held in Tokyo tomorrow to salvage a peace process between the Indonesian government and separatist rebels from the oil-rich province of Aceh have already prevented war.  Without compromise by both sides, though, renewed conflict will only be postponed.  The Free Aceh Movement, also known as GAM, wants an independent state.  Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri's government will go only as far as offering autonomy....  Last Thursday, Mrs. Megawati sent 3,000 troops to the province and threatened to resume military action if the demand for putting aside weapons was not met and the autonomy offer not accepted.  A deadline of Monday passed, but last-ditch talks have been agreed upon.  There is strong pressure working against a movement towards the middle ground.  Nationalist sentiment among Muslim-majority Indonesians has risen since the American-led war on Iraq.  Recent polls in Jakarta's media show 80 per cent support for the government's policy on Aceh.  But the province is 1,700 km from the capital, where few people know about the desires and needs of Achenese.  Indonesia and GAM are giving peace another chance, but the only lasting solution lies in compromise."


JAPAN:  "Aceh Won't Derail Indonesia"


Eric Teo Chu Cheow wrote in the leftist, English-language Japan Times (5/22):  "Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has signed a presidential decree putting Aceh under martial law and authorizing military operations after the latest peace talks collapsed in Tokyo last weekend....  What impact would war in Aceh have on Indonesia? Economically, Indonesia is buoyant....  It is widely acknowledged that Indonesia's economic recovery and sustenance would probably not be derailed by a civil war in Aceh, given the relative isolation of the Aceh economy from the rest of Indonesia--excluding oil and gas production....  War in Aceh also would have few implications for Jakarta--where key economic and financial decisions are made--and other major cities unless GAM resorted to terrorist or hit-and-run acts in those cities. It is doubtful that GAM has the operational means to do so, given its current fragile military structure and weak deployment outside Aceh....  Aceh's impact on Indonesian politics also should be subdued. A civil war might even stabilize Indonesia politically in the runup toward crucial legislative and presidential elections next year....  In fact, preventing Aceh from seceding and maintaining the political unity of the country has the support of many Indonesians. However, military abuse in Aceh during the Suharto years is acknowledged to the extent that many Indonesians would agree to giving special autonomy status to the restive province....  Megawati knows her policy toward Aceh has massive public support. A successful Aceh military campaign could even bolster her prospects ahead of crucial elections next year, especially since she is widely acknowledged to have already provided a strong dose of political, religious and economic stabilization for Indonesia.  The final economic and political impact of the Aceh would depend on the conduct of the military operations and the pacification process that would follow, if and when GAM is routed. With or without war in Aceh, investor confidence and political stabilization both appear to be on track.


"Aceh Bloodshed Must Be Stopped"


The liberal Asahi editorialized (5/20):  "Indonesian troops launched operations into Aceh at the order of President Megawati following the unsuccessful conclusion of two-day peace talks in Tokyo.  There are already concerns that the offensive could escalate into miserable and drawn-out guerrilla warfare with Free Aceh Movement (GAM) fighters.  Behind the fragile peace that lasted only five months had been lingering distrust between Jakarta, which refused to reduce its military presence in Aceh, and the GAM, which has strengthened its independence movement.  Confusion in Indonesia will also pose a serious threat to peace in Southeast Asia.  Japan, the world's largest aid giver, should work on Jakarta to return to the negotiation table with the GAM."        


"Jakarta's Offensive To Nullify Peace Accord"


An editorial in the business-oriented Nihon Keizai observed (5/20):  "We are concerned that Jakarta's sudden military offensive into Aceh following the unsuccessful conclusion of the Tokyo peace conference could victimize innocent Aceh civilians and nullify the peace accord reached last December.  There are also concerns that if the Indonesian military takes tough measures under martial law, GAM fighters will intensify acts of terrorism, threatening Indonesia's stability and obstructing foreign capital investment.  The international community should urge Jarkata to lift its martial law in Aceh and resume peace talks at an early date."


INDONESIA:  Another Timor Massacre Must Be Avoided"


Aboeprijadi Santoso wrote in the independent, English-language Jakarta Post (5/27):  "Indonesia's past experience with East Timor has been a lesson of political, military and human disaster....  The dynamic of oppression -- the ongoing human rights abuses--turned the people towards massive protests and deception. This was East Timor's most important lesson for Jakarta. But it took international support, a regional crisis and the fall of a dictator before a referendum brought freedom. Lacking such likelihood, Aceh has little prospects of independence.  In Aceh, however, more than elsewhere, the crisis of 1998 had precipitated a fresh dynamic as collective sentiments, born out of suffering, a deep sense of injustice, pride and resentment, have accumulated for decades....  A peace effort will only be credible if, in addition to bringing those responsible for both sides' atrocities to justice, it can halt the criminal extortions of the people by both GAM and the Indonesian army and police that has sustained violence for years.  Meanwhile, Jakarta regaining Acehnese hearts and minds will take a long time....  Jakarta could win the battles, but risks a war of attrition."


“Speeding Up Aceh Settlement” 


Islamic-oriented Pelita commented (5/27):  “Until this day, there are still opinions or analyses that tend to favor GAM. Some parties are still doubtful that GAM is behind the burning of schools. Some even suggest we torch the schools, either the TNI or others from our side. What for? Vying for the school building reconstruction [with] the motivation to corrupt post-conflict projects in Aceh. A very irrational argument.”


“The Coverage Of Civil War In Aceh”


Christian-oriented afternoon-published Sinar Harapan maintained (5/24):  "TNI deserves a thumbs-up because it recognizes the need for transparency so that they are not always accused of violating human rights. However, we realize that when journalists mingle with soldiers and are pressured here and there, the media and journalists could soon turn into an effective tool for propaganda reporting events in the field. Such a tendency has been felt in the form of uniformity of the coverage in many media; just like the U.S. media coverage during the Iraq invasion last month. TNI should realize that the military operations in Aceh are not a war against an external enemy. Basically it is a civil war. GAM rebels are also the sons of this motherland, not foreigners. In fact, when various media in Indonesia enthusiastically report the progress of war the number and the death tolls on the enemy’s side etc, those are enjoyed very much by the public, we actually have become a sick and senseless nation.”


"Difficult To Include GAM As Terrorist Organisation"


Independent Media Indonesia opined (5/23):  "It would be difficult to have the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) included in the United Nations list of terrorist organisations since the world body only lists groups with ties to Al-Qa'ida, Osama Bin Ladin and the Taliban....  Unlike the foreign media, the Indonesian media does not classify GAM as rebels, but as a movement, so it would be more difficult to categorise GAM as a criminal or terrorist organisation, since designation as a terrorist organisation is dependent on public opinion."


“Victims Of War”


The independent English-language Jakarta Post observed (5/23):  "Contrary to early promises of freedom for journalists to cover the war, Aceh military ruler Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya began to censor the press on day two of operations....  The police have started to arrest human rights activists and other individuals allegedly connected with the separatist group....  Judging by the events that have taken place in the first few days of martial law in Aceh it is hard to exclude the possibility of more surprises in the weeks to come. It will be even more difficult to brush off the highly probable recurrence of human rights abuses, again committed with impunity. The term "integrated operations" is beginning to look more like something of a misnomer now. “


“We Condemn School Burning”


Independent Media Indonesia editorialized (5/23):  "Who are the perpetrators of the burning?....  Both TNI and GAM are blaming each other....  We condemn the burning because this has deprived the schoolchildren’ of their rights to study, to have access to knowledge. This means those involved in the school burning are against development and against civilization for schools not only make people clever but also civilized....  We agree with Endang Suwarya, who issued an order to shoot on site those who burn schools and other facilities. But this should not create new problems, such as unlawful shootings of the innocent, a mistake that would impact very badly because as TNI leaders promised, the war should not only defeat GAM, but also win the Aceh people’s hearts.  And we fully agree.”


"No Indonesia Without Aceh"


The independent English-language Jakarta Post contended (Internet version) (5/22):  "'Force won't solve Indonesia's problems in Aceh'....  'U.S., Australia concerned about loss of life in Aceh'... 'U.S. calls for resumption of negotiations in separatist conflict'   These May 20th headlines from Reuters, AFP and dpa news agencies respectively reflect the view of Western governments on Indonesia's crackdown on Acehnese separatist rebels.  These Western views, that of the U.S. and Australia in particular, serve only to strengthen the notion of double standards adopted by many Western governments, the U.S. in particular....  The very same governments that are occupying Iraq are asking Indonesia not to wage war to defend its sovereignty and national unity.  For Indonesia, Aceh is a matter of life or death.  Without Aceh, there is no Indonesia.  Similarly, without Irian Jaya (Papua) there is no Indonesia and that is why Indonesia is determined to keep the nation intact at all costs....  That is how Indonesians see the matter and feel the U.S. and its allies have been unfair in their demands for Indonesia to avoid war in Aceh....  There is nothing unique in this because no nation will just give up its territory without a fight.  It is therefore baffling that Indonesia's struggle to maintain unity has come under fire from the world community as reflected by the views of the U.S. and its allies....  The Indonesian government has held talks with Acehnese separatists but as the recent failure in Tokyo has demonstrated, no compromise could be reached because neither side is willing to compromise their stands.  For Indonesia, the Unitary Republic of Indonesia is a final. The Acehnese meanwhile will accept nothing less than independence.....  The protracted war in Aceh is a drain in Indonesia's human resources and finances.  But most of all, it is also threatening its very existence....  This much is at stake."


"The Price Of A War"


Muslim intellectual Republika commented (5/22):  “The Indonesian military (TNI) accuses Free Aceh Movement (GAM) as behind the torching of the schools, showing how GAM is frustrated....  But GAM has denied this....  Eventually it is no longer important to know who really was behind those actions.  In a war, information spreads and the warring parties will fabricate information to keep it in line with their respective interests.  Just look at the U.S. when it attacked Iraq.  U.S. military spokesmen held a press conference almost every hour to report last-minute developments.  The objective was to win the public opinion because winning a war not only depends on armed contacts, but also on victory in diplomacy.”


"Keep Strict Control Of Aceh Operation"


Independent Koran Tempo editorialized (Internet version) (5/20):  "It was not hard to guess that the negotiations between the Indonesian Government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Tokyo will in the end fail.  The three conditions put forward by the government--that GAM acknowledge Aceh as part of Indonesia, accept special autonomy and lay down their arms--could in fact have been formulated in a single phrase: that GAM accept total surrender.  Clearly, GAM was not going to accept that.  Indeed, the negotiations were obviously in vain from the start.  They were nothing but a 'diplomatic bumper' to answer any international criticism that might be raised while an assault on Aceh is going on.  The uselessness of the Tokyo talks shows one thing: that we failed in the international diplomacy aimed at settling the Aceh question.  It was GAM that gained victory on that stage.  GAM managed to drag the Aceh question into the global limelight, and even forced the presence of a group of saviors, as though the Aceh question was a matter between the state of Indonesia and the state of Aceh....  In the short term, the Integrated Operation was an unavoidable choice.  The Aceh situation was in such a state that it needed special handling....  The longer martial law remains in effect in Aceh, the greater the chance of deviations occurring....  Operations will rely heavily on intelligence forces.  The problem is, how much of a guarantee is there that intelligence operations to identify GAM leaders will be carried out properly?  We want no repetition of the tactics of scooping up civilians, with hundreds of people killed....  Without strict control, the military operation in Aceh will become an operation of slaughter, including of innocent civilians.  We must try hard to avoid that happening."


MALAYSIA:  "Wavelength: No-win Quandary For ‘Democratic’ Governments"


John Teo argued in the government-influenced New Straits Times (5/24):  "Malaysians will be forgiven for feeling slightly besieged this past week or so.  The country is bracketed by war erupting anew in Aceh, Indonesia to our west....  Not so long ago, some armchair critics would have pronounced the Aceh and Mindanao problems as reflecting the effects of political suppression under totalitarian governments. Their argument would be that once the countries to which these two regions belong become democratic, the problems would disappear.  Such beliefs are hard to erase despite facts to the contrary. The Philippines has been nominally democratic for close to 20 years. Yet political problems there appear only more desperate by the day.  Indonesian democracy may be of more recent vintage but the political euphoria generated by the overthrow of the Suharto Government has all but dissipated....  The problems confronting the Philippines and Indonesia, arose when democracy provided legitimate cover for devious individuals and groups to manipulate the majority towards their twisted ends....  Optimists will see in the latest developments in Aceh and Mindanao the rare resolve of democratic governments to crack down on lawless rebels.....  At least in Jakarta's case, there are no qualms to declare martial law in Aceh. But count on certain 'democratic' forces both inside and outside the country to heap enough charges of corruption and human rights abuses against an admittedly imperfect armed forces to check any decisive victory against Aceh separatists....  All in all, a no-win quandary for "democratic" governments that lose credibility with their own people by the day even as they pick up praises from Western capitals which seem to think people care two hoots about democracy as they clutch empty stomachs and dodge flying bullets."


"Seeking Peace In Aceh"


Mohamed Shauki Abdul Majid stated in government-influenced Kuala Lumpur-based Utusan Malaysia (5/23):  "The declaration of war by the Indonesian Government on the Free Aceh Movement [GAM] has until now killed 38 innocent civilians....  A civil war is expected to cause more loss of innocent lives.  This calls for the Islamic academics and ulemas who are plentiful in Indonesia to seek the best alternative to achieve peace as required by the religion.  In the history of human civilization, the tradition of using violence in the form of war is the easy way to develop a race, but history has also proved that not even one religion permits the use of violence....  War is forbidden, except for achieving peace or promoting the conversion to Muslims....  World peace is an ideal of Islam."


"Has GAM Bitten Off More Than It Can Chew This Time?"


Shukor Rahman wrote in the government-influenced New Straits Times (5/22):  "Has the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) overplayed its hand this time?  It looks as if it has badly underestimated the new-found steely resolve of President Megawati Sukarnoputri....  Aceh is rich in petroleum and gas but everywhere you go, the claim that 'Jakarta has bled Aceh dry and has given little back' seem to bear out.  Banda Aceh itself looks as if it has not progressed beyond the 1960s. The market looked primitive and eateries looked anything but inviting, while streets were also poorly lit....  Just outside, villagers were jostling to sell fresh produce and fruits such as bananas and ciku at unbelievably low prices....  Yes, life is dirt cheap here....  There is no way Jakarta will let Aceh go. Period. Even GAM leaders concede that if Aceh goes, a few other regions will follow suit and this can only mean the end of the Indonesian Republic.  GAM should have been more flexible this time as the odds are heavily stacked in Jakarta's favour. Megawati has brought about a degree of political stability which few thought she was capable of....  The proud, hardworking Acehnese whom even the Dutch had failed to subjugate certainly deserve better.  A distraught GAM delegate Mahmood Malik mentioned the possibility of seeking UN intervention. One cannot help thinking that he must certainly have an undying faith in the UN or it could have been a sign of total desperation as the world has clearly seen how impotent the UN has been in Palestine, Bosnia and more recently in Iraq....  GAM must be pragmatic and realise it is fast running out of options. GAM is today outnumbered, outgunned and outmaneuvered....  GAM has bitten off more than it can chew and it would be a real pity if innocent villagers and civilian population continued to pay the price."


PHILIPPINES:  "Aceh Attack Will Give Megawati Political Boost"


The independent Manila Times held (5/25):  "The war in Aceh could be a vote-winner for Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri if it is short, successful and free of the gross military abuses which stained previous campaigns, analysts say.  The military went on the attack Monday following the collapse of peace talks in Tokyo....  Strong pressure from the United States, European Union and Japan brought both sides to Tokyo for a final attempt to save their peace pact. But five GAM negotiators in Aceh were arrested as they headed for Japan....  The peace process had effectively broken down by March....  The Iraq campaign also provided a military model for Indonesian forces, which are even “embedding” local journalists with troops in Aceh....  Megawati could enjoy a boost."


SINGAPORE:  "Indonesians Are With Govt When It Comes To Aceh"


Devi Asmarani declared in the pro-government Straits Times (5/27):  "Talk to the people in Jakarta and you will find an uncharacteristic unity on the Aceh conflict....  On the issue of Aceh, they all seem to back President Megawati Sukarnoputri's move to put down the secessionist struggle....  This unusual phenomenon has put a smile back on Ms Megawati's face.  After all, her much anticipated Aceh offensive after the peace talks with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels collapsed took a lot of flak even before the first bullets started flying between the rebels and Indonesian troops....  So, why the change of heart?  For one, Indonesians are simply tired of the impasse with the armed rebels....  Disillusionment played a part, too. The Acehnese were not the idealistic freedom fighters the Indonesians in Jakarta first imagined them to be....  More importantly, however, was the realisation that despite the peace talks and ceasefire, GAM looked like it was never going to drop its secessionist cause.  Indonesians feared Aceh would go the way of East Timor.  Aceh has a special place in Indonesian history.  It was the only province that never fell under the rule of the colonial governments, and its support for the nation's independence struggle was crucial.  The man in the street in Jakarta is not prepared to let go of such a historic landmark.  The overall sentiment seems to be this: Ms Megawati and her team should do what it needs to get the job done, and quickly, with as little bloodshed as possible."


"Not By Force Alone"


The pro-government Straits Times editorialized (Internet version) (5/22):  "Is there any better solution other than military force to resolve the Acehnese conflict?  For now, the military will not countenance anything other than GAM's surrender.  The generals are not in favour of further negotiations unless the secessionists set aside their weapons, end their quest for independence and settle for autonomy.  Among those calling for a resumption of peace talks is Vice-President Hamzah Haz, who has electoral support in the staunchly Islamic province.  Clearly, the door has to be kept open for further dialogues with the rebels to seek a peaceful solution to the problem.  Indonesia will not be able to resolve the separatist conflict by brute force alone because this is also a battle for hearts and minds.  The alienated Acehnese have legitimate grievances after suffering gross human rights abuses during the anti-GAM campaigns of the Suharto era, when extrajudicial killings, disappearances and other violations were common.  The danger now is that martial law, which gives the military wide powers to arrest, detain and to impose curfews and other restrictions on personal liberties, could lead to abuses again.  Which is why the Indonesian government must make sure that there is accountability if past mistakes are not to be repeated."


THAILAND:  "Thailand Stuns Over Indonesia"


The independent English-language Nation held (5/27):  "By backing the attack on Aceh rebels, Bangkok may have given up on hopes for peace in the strife-torn province.  For a country that doesn’t like to make its foreign policy stance known, Thailand managed to surprise the international community when it threw its support behind the Indonesian government in their all-out war against the separatist Acehnese....  President Megawati Sukarnoputri has asked the Thai government to curb arms smuggling from Thailand to the war-torn province and ensure that no GAM rebels seek asylum there....  Although the sticky topic of arms smuggling has not resulted in any souring of relations between Thailand and Indonesia, nevertheless it is an ongoing issue....  With the launch of the military operation in Aceh at midnight of Monday last week, which is aimed at “crushing” the separatists once and for all, Jakarta has increased its efforts to prevent the smuggling of more weapons to the province....  The decision marked a turn around from the role that the military had taken. Thailand’s Maj-General Thanongsak Tuvinum, who blamed the breakdown of peace on both sides, was leading an international monitoring team....  Thanongsak and the rest of the foreign troops monitoring the cease-fire deal were out of Aceh just days before the all-out offensive against GAM began."




IRAN:  "Aceh's Aches Flare Up Again"


A.H. Shirazi commented in conservative, English-language Kayhan International (5/25):  "Indonesia has again resorted to firepower in a further attempt to crush the rebellion in its province of Aceh.   Peace talks held last December in Tokyo between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) collapsed owing to what is said to be Indonesia's additional demands and its rejection of independence for Aceh....  While peace mediators blame Indonesia for the breakdown in the talks, America has been advocating special autonomy for the oil-rich province.   On the other hand, Australia, another "sympathetic observer" would like to see the contending parties return to the negotiating table....  Having lost East Timor and beset also by Papua's demand for independence, Indonesia seems determined to keep itself from shrinking any further.  As things stand at present, Indonesian forces--about 45,000 of them pitted against 5000 GAM fighters--seem to hold center stage.   The Acehnese, however, are no easy morsel themselves....  Not since Indonesia's invasion and East Timor in 1975 had the archipelago witnessed a military operation on the scale of this latest one.   But while East Timor enjoyed diplomatic support and astute leadership, Aceh does not enjoy the former, at least.  Indonesia's powerful military says that this is the final campaign, the quietus to the whole bloody affair.   Given that country's failure to quell the separatist movement in the past, the circumstance of its current confident mood is a moot point.   The Acehnese, with their own distinct language, culture and a strict practise of Islam have not forgotten serious violations of their rights....  In the light of all this, the only feasible -- and sensible -- course of action is for all the parties involved to collect around the table once again and give free rein to the innate human spirit of give and take."



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