Failure of courts hurts Jakarta's effort to control rebels
Indonesia set a deadline this week for peace talks with Aceh.
Nurjannah jumped back when the soldier poked his head out of the early morning sunlight into her kitchen. But she was quickly reassured his rifle was slung carelessly over his shoulder, and he politely asked her in perfect Indonesian to wake up her husband, Kamaruddin. "Don't worry,'' the soldier said. "We just need you to send him out front with the others now."Skip to next paragraph
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"I did what he asked,'' Nurjannah says. A sleepy Kamaruddin, stretching as he went out, was also calm. The couple had moved to company housing at the Bumi Flora rubber and palm-oil plantation after their marriage six years ago. It had proven a peaceful eddy amid Aceh's 25-year-old war for independence. Their two children had been born here and were thriving in the country air.
But as her husband and a cluster of male neighbors were led to a small clearing, her heart went cold. According to transcripts from government and human rights workers' interviews with eyewitnesses, the soldiers ordered the men to remove their shirts and squat down. They then asked the men if they were Javanese, Indonesia's dominant ethnic group. After the men affirmed they were all ethnic-Acehnese, the soldiers, who witnesses say were members of the Indonesian military, opened fire, killing 30 men and one small boy.
Kamaruddin wasn't hit by the first salvo. Nurjannah says she ran from soldier to soldier, begging "please don't kill my husband.'' One soldier warned her to be quiet, then stepped forward and killed Kamaruddin. "I want those men brought to justice,'' says Nurjannah in a flat-voiced interview a year after the murders. "But I've come to accept that will never happen."
Nurjannah's fatalism highlights a disturbing national trend that has deepened under the year-long leadership of President Megawati Sukarnoputri: The collapse of efforts to use the justice system to rein in military abuses and lower the temperature in conflict areas like Aceh, where 25,000 troops are arrayed against 5,000 members of the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Instead, incidents like the Aug. 9, 2001, massacre at Bumi Flora in East Aceh which the Indonesian military claims was carried out by GAM are largely ignored or undermined by what observers say are disturbingly weak prosecutions and investigations.
"There is no functioning legal process in East Aceh, or anywhere else in Aceh,'' says Jusuf Puteh, the head of the East Aceh Human Rights Assistance Post, an independent organization that has been collecting evidence on the Bumi Flora case.
Aceh is home to one of the world's largest natural gas fields, run by ExxonMobil. The insurgency has its roots in anger that most of the province's natural-resource revenue has traditionally gone to Jakarta. Ms. Megawati has promised her government will "crush" GAM, something her three predecessors failed to do. This week, Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudoyono warned the rebels to sign a peace deal by Dec. 7 or face "intensified military operations." GAM said it was willing to resume talks.
But to many in the province, the failure of justice is only inspiring the next generation of rebels. Lawyers in Aceh say no cases have been brought against soldiers over the past two years, and that when investigations are pursued, they are undermined by an apparent unwillingness of the police and civilian human rights officials to pursue leads.
"The government is using the armed forces to extract concessions at the negotiating table,'' says Aceh legislator Abdullah Saleh. "It's an approach that will only work if the soldiers are professional. What can make them professional is a justice process. That's the missing piece."
Meanwhile, the Bush administration, which sees Indonesia as an important ally in the war on terror, is seeking to normalize military relations broken after 1999 abuses in East Timor.