ON CHRISTMAS Day, the Indonesian military announced that it had killed 18 Acehnese guerillas. It was a paltry accomplishment by its own brutal standards. In the time since martial law was imposed on Aceh in May 2003, the army has admitted to having killed 3,216 Acehnese. Amnesty International reports a litany of atrocities in the same period—torture, extra-judicial killings, “rape and other forms of sexual violence”.
Martial law had been imposed to allow 40,000 Indonesian troops and police to destroy GAM (Free Aceh Movement) rebels who control much of Aceh. Tanks rolled in, while Hawk jets (courtesy of Britain) pounded GAM targets. In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December, the Indonesian government continued its attacks, ignoring a ceasefire from the GAM. The Times reported that the army had shot dead several tsunami victims in cold blood.
Last week, the Indonesian government announced that foreign troops administering aid should withdraw from Aceh by 26 March or sooner. It said it wanted to introduce three new battalions of soldiers and one new battalion of “mobile brigade” police.
Yet last Saturday the GAM offered another ceasefire and this time the Indonesian government is interested.
There are a number of possible reasons for this. First of all, while the GAM had only a few hundred active members when martial law began, by late 2004 it had reached 10,000.
Secondly, the US—which previously supported the Indonesian dictator General Suharto—has a multitude of corporate interests in Aceh and hopes to have more.
Former US diplomat Richard Holbrooke is working with the United States Indonesian Society, a group sponsored by prominent US corporations, to maximise private sector involvement in the reconstruction of the region.
The GAM needs a respite from the military assault, while foreign investors seek a stable climate.
The aim of the talks as far as the US and the Indonesian government are concerned is to terminate the insurgency. Military attacks will resume fully if the GAM offers less than complete surrender.
Trade unionists in Poland blocked the railway station in the capital Warsaw on Tuesday of last week demanding the government invest in railways. It was their third warning strike in two months