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Aceh: return to military ‘business as usual’

27 April 2005

The Indonesian Army has charged aid agencies operating in tsunami-hit Aceh fees to use roads in order to deliver aid, while further profiteering from infrastructure and development projects, said a new report by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) released today.

The report warns that concerted action is needed to prevent military business activities refuelling the conflict in which minority communities are the frequent victims. Post-tsunami optimism for a negotiated peace is being undermined by evidence of a return to military ‘business as usual’ in the region and reports of a renewed military crackdown.

Aceh: Then and Now by expert author, Lesley McCulloch, offers a unique insight into the military strangle-hold over the region. It documents a conflict largely perpetuated by an under-resourced military and police with vested interests in illegal military business activities and continuing unrest. While many such activities were curtailed following the tsunami, evidence suggests that they are re-emerging alongside new opportunities provided by a massive influx of humanitarian and reconstruction dollars. Urgent measures are required to prevent a continuation and expansion of a military culture of exploitation, which will further extend the conflict.

Some military business activities, including the lucrative fishing industry, are no longer available to exploit. However, MRG are concerned that this may result in greater pressure being applied to communities in other ways such as demanding ‘protection’ payments from business owners struggling to recover their livelihoods. Fear of being accused as a member of Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM, the Free Aceh Movement) has also been used extensively to extort money from individuals. Those unable to pay have suffered severe consequences:

‘The military came for money, the usual Rp 200,000 each month. Last year my father was very sick and was in hospital…[he] tried to explain that we had no money that month, but the troops became angry. They threatened to shoot me unless my father paid…they put a sack of rice on his chest and began to jump on it. Some blood came from my father’s mouth. My father passed out and the military shot him in the eye, his head split. I don’t know what happened after that, I think I fainted.’ Idris, 15 years, Lampulo, February 2002. ‘I don’t know what rank he was, [he] told me that if I pay Rp 6 million, my father will be released. I told him our family has no money. Aidnun said ‘OK, no problem. You come with me and make me happy – just one hour- then your father will be free. If you don’t pay or make me happy, I can’t be responsible for what will happen to him.’ Interview, Simpang Kramet, north Aceh, July 2004.

Director of MRG, Mark Lattimer, stated: ‘It is not unusual for profit to be a major factor in conflict. Depriving the military of business opportunities and income from threats and exploitation will remove one of the major factors perpetuating the conflict in Aceh. A rare opportunity exists now for peace to prevail, but establishment of minority rights is crucial to that process.’

MRG has called upon the Indonesian Government to take urgent measures to halt all illegal military activities in Aceh and to conduct a full investigation into such activities and measures to prevent them. International standards on minority rights should be fully understood and immediately applied in Aceh as a further measure to promote sustainable peace in the region as well as to ensure the welfare of all communities following the tsunami.

Notes for editors

Download the full text of MRG’s report ‘Aceh: Then and Now‘.