Indonesian province in revolt
Tuesday 09 November 1999
Hundreds of thousands of Acehnese, carrying pro- independence banners and wearing bandanas and Islamic headscarves, converged on the capital, Banda Aceh, shouting "Independence!" and "Referendum!" in the province's biggest display of opposition to the government in Jakarta. Estimates of the crowd ranged from 500,000 to 1.5 million, more than a quarter of the population of the province. One Indonesian soldier was stripped naked by a mob, and more than a hundred prisoners were reported to have been helped to escape from two jails in the province.
The government of the new Indonesian President, Abdurrahman Wahid, appears to be in disarray over its policy towards the independence movement, which threatens not only Aceh's future within Indonesia but the continued unity of therepublic. The new minister for regional autonomy, Ryas Rasyid, said at the weekend that he believed Aceh had an evens chance of breaking away from Jakarta. "It's the most serious situation we are facing now," he said. "If Indonesia should disintegrate, it would start in Aceh and [the easternmost province of] Irian Jaya. That's what I believe."
President Wahid, who is on a tour of south-east Asia, has said that he is willing to consider a referendum although not immediately. The parliamentary speaker says the President may need to visit Aceh. The demands for an independence vote have been fuelled by the August referendum in East Timor. But the chief spokesman of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI), Major-General Sudrajat, rejected the possibility. "Aceh is a part of Indonesia," he said yesterday. "That's why the demand for a referendum is not realistic and separatism is unconstitution-al." The brutality of the TNI is one of several causes of resentment among Acehnese, whose struggle for independence dates back to the time of the Dutch colonialists. The province is strategically located at the northern tip of Sumatra island, on the Straits of Malacca, one of the world's busiest and most important maritime waterways.
Aceh generates one-third of Indonesia's exports of natural gas, and has rich reserves of oil, gold, silver, rubber and timber. But its natural resources have been exploited almost exclusively for the benefit of companies based in Jakarta and their foreign business partners.
Last year both the former president, B J Habibie, and his military commander, General Wiranto, gave official apologies to the Acehnese, and last week the TNI announced that it had abandoned its attempts to defeat militarily the guerrillas of the Free Aceh Movement. But such compromises have done nothing to quell the self-determination movement, which has gained new momentum from the recently won independence of East Timor.
President Wahid appointed Acehnese to the cabinet and to the deputy command of the army in an effort to defuse the crisis but with no visible effect. The government is believed to be pushing for a political solution that would give Aceh a greater share of the huge oil and gas revenues. Jakarta may also allow the province to introduce Islamic sharia law, instead of the secular system that applies in the rest of Indonesia.
But Mr Wahid's concessions may be too little, too late. Suspicion and hatred of Jakarta and of the main island of Java is entrenched after years of summary executions, rape and torture at the hands of the military.
- 1 Autism 'caused by genetics', study suggests
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Why you should never make assumptions about people with autism
- 4 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
Bali nine: Welcome to 'Execution Island' – the Indonesian holiday resort where foreigners are sent to die
How Homer Simpson discovered the Higgs boson over a decade before scientists
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Harrison Ford plane crash: Star Wars actor 'seriously injured' after light aircraft crash lands
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing experience-led technology co...
£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in the...
£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunit...