Socialist Worker

Discontent grows in Aceh and in Indonesia

Jon Lamb spoke to Zely Ariane, a member of the People’s Democratic Party, about growing unrest in Indonesia and the breakaway Aceh region

Issue No. 1952

Six months after his election, the cracks are well and truly appearing in the promises and policies of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The half-hearted support of the Indonesian masses for

his presidency is rapidly evaporating as he continues to implement World Bank and International Monetary Fund austerity measures.

The heavy-handed response of the Indonesian military to the independence movement in Aceh is fuelling the problems.

According to Zely Ariane of the People’s Democracy Party, “The people now know that the president has lied and has lied many times. He raised hopes of a solution in Aceh. Then he continued the policy of sending more troops to Aceh.

“Then on the issue of corruption, he promised that there would be a major crackdown within three months… but no-one has been charged or jailed.”


To help offset the impact of the economic reforms, such as the removal of subsidies on fuel, Yudhoyono promised to improve welfare and to lower the prices on certain goods and services. But these improvements have failed to materialise.

The optimism that initially surrounded the election of Yudhoyono evaporated when fuel prices began to shoot up.

The fuel price increase “is a very critical issue for people”, yet has been met with a mixed response. The organised movement among student and activist groups has so far been unable to tap the discontent and spontaneous response from the hardest hit sectors of Indonesian society.

“The fuel price movement has not been able to respond strongly because it is weak at the moment. It is mostly student groups who have been the main force behind it.

“Their political independence is not strong. After the parliament approved the fuel price hike, the student movement became less active, especially some of the Islamic student groups linked to parties in the parliament.

“Those involved in the spontaneous movement — especially among the urban poor and those such as drivers and small vendors — they are ready to fight this fuel price hike, but they have no partner in the form of the student organisations.”


Ariane believes that the situation in Aceh is another sign of the ongoing erosion of human rights and democracy in Indonesia.

The tsunami disaster has been used by the Indonesian military (TNI) to further strengthen its presence in Aceh and hound the guerrilla fighters of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Through her involvement with Segera, a coalition of Aceh solidarity organisations, Ariane has seen firsthand the role of the military in Aceh.

“The day after the tsunami, the head of the military lied when he said 40,000 troops would be sent to Aceh and the troops would be divided equally between humanitarian help and operations seeking GAM. In fact, they only mobilised 10,000 troops to help the people and 30,000 to chase GAM in the mountains.

“Segera recorded the TNI activities in Aceh after the tsunami until the end of February… it is clear that TNI forces are the ones that are starting the conflict.”

Under pressure from the Indonesian government, countries that sent troops to help with aid and reconstruction efforts have, or are in the process of, completely withdrawing their troops. Restrictions have been imposed on the movements of foreign aid workers and journalists outside the capital, Banda Aceh.

Yudhoyono and the Indonesian government are extremely sensitive to outside perceptions about the TNI’s role in Aceh, hence some tense debates

and public discussion over the latest round of negotiations in Helsinki with GAM representatives.

Ariane said that the approach to negotiate with GAM in Helsinki by the military and the government is a tactical attempt to divide the GAM leadership in Sweden and the GAM based in Aceh.

“There is a lot of hope for these talks,” explained Ariane. GAM “decreased its demands” in the first round. “It didn’t insist on independence”, but proposed “self-government through autonomy, the involvement of local political parties and that the Indonesian government must withdraw troops. It is a start.

“But it seems the Indonesian government and the parliament doesn’t want this process to continue. TNI does not want the negotiations to continue. They do not want peace in Aceh.”

The TNI announced on April 14 that an extra 3,000 troops would be sent to Aceh — plus three battalions to West Papua, which is also under extreme military repression.

According to Ariane “The TNI hasn’t changed… the way they acted in East Timor, the way they behaved under Suharto has not changed.

“Their activity in Aceh and the secret war in Papua reveal the genuine character of the TNI. We can’t trust the TNI … so we call for pressure to stop the war in Aceh and the war in Papua.”

A longer version of this article first appeared in the Australian publication Green Left Weekly. Go to

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Sat 21 May 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1952
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