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U.S. Ignoring Indonesia Army Terrorism In Oil-Rich Region, Say Groups

by Jacqueline Koch

Aceh And The Grim Shadows Of Civil War
(PNS) -- If the Bush administration continues to rally support for renewed U.S. military aid to Indonesia, it must studiously ignore two new reports charging the U.S. ally in the war on terror with terrorizing the populations of Aceh and West Papua.

A report by the U.S.-based nonprofit Human Rights Watch, released Dec. 17, compiled interviews with more than 85 Acehnese refugees in Malaysia and offers the first in-depth look at a war raging behind a tightly shuttered martial law administration. Troops landed en masse last May to, in the words of Indonesia's military chief, "exterminate" separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement. Young civilian men, according to the report, are the consistent targets of summary executions, torture and forced disappearances carried out by Indonesian soldiers.

Aceh is an oil- and gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra. Acehnese rebels launched a bid for independence in 1976.

The accounts confirm many of the fears voiced by human rights and humanitarian aid organizations -- that a stranglehold on the press ensures that the military can operate with unrestricted force while enjoying total impunity.

In one account from the report, a witness describes a young man's gruesome murder before the members of his village.

"I saw one of the soldiers handcuff the ankles of this man, and then another soldier held him by his feet and swung him against a tree," the witness recounts. The soldiers repeatedly bashed the man's skull against the tree, "until he was dead."

Indonesia's foreign ministry responded to the report, saying that the refugees did not represent the opinions of most people in the province. "Freedom of movement has been restored and people can travel from village to village," the ministry said.

Human Rights Watch says the refugee testimonies are "consistent with a long history of abusive behavior by Indonesian security forces in Aceh." Rampant extortion, forced displacement, and looting are coupled with a looming humanitarian disaster where food is in dangerously low supply.

The situation in Aceh mirrors the ongoing brutality and violence in West Papua, in eastern Indonesia, according to another recent report. The Yale Law School's Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic investigated evidence of genocide against indigenous Papuans, who are mostly Melanesian Christians and animists.

The 77-page report, prepared for the Indonesia Human Rights Network, or IHRN, states: "Contemporary evidence strongly suggests that the Indonesian government has committed proscribed acts with the intent to destroy the West Papuans in violation of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."

Indigenous Papuans have bitterly leveled the same claim all along. Institutionalized racism, disastrous government programs such as transmigration, a government policy to move landless Javanese peasants into the province, and systematic and violent oppression have steadily chipped away at their physical, economic and social health.

Since taking over West Papua in 1969, Jakarta has plundered the region to fill national coffers and bank accounts of the political elites in Java. Little was channeled back into the province. Indigenous Papuans, though surrounded by rich natural resources, are among the poorest in Indonesia. The report also cites severe environmental damage resulting from mining operations of U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc, and notes that West Papuans have the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in Indonesia.

Since its first days in the White House, the Bush administration has vehemently, yet so far unsuccessfully, pushed to lift a military embargo leveled against Indonesia for its atrocities in East Timor. In October, Congress upheld the arms ban and stipulated specific conditions for lifting it. Now, some officers from the Indonesian military's decades-long debacle in East Timor have re-entered national service, this time in West Papua.

Recently, convicted militia leader Eurico Guterres announced his plans for "White and Red Defenders Front," a nationalist militia, in the West Papua mining town of Timika. Heavy troop buildup in Papua, and the appointment of Indonesia's former police chief in East Timor, Timbul Silaen, as police chief of West Papua, raise fears that destabilization and violence will follow.

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Albion Monitor January 4, 2004 (

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