Indonesia: Aceh – Interview with prime minister in exile of Aceh

Last Friday, Teungku Malik Mahmood, was interviewed by Offensiv in its Stockholm office. He is in exile but regarded by the Aceh Freedom Movement (Gam) as the rightful prime minister of the State of Aceh. He pointed out the wide gap between the words and deeds of the Indonesian government.


Interview with prime minister in exile of Aceh

"We welcome the possibility of new talks and want as soon as possible a formal cease-fire. But there is a big difference between the various statements of the Indonesian government and their actions," he says.

The day before, Indonesia’s vice president, Yusuf Kalla, had welcomed Gam´s reaffirmed unilateral cease-fire and willingness to talk and said that, "Indonesia will make its own efforts towards that". However, this statement was made only a day after Indonesia´s government proclaimed new restrictions that compel relief workers that want to move outside Banda Aceh and Meulabou to travel with an escort of Indonesian soldiers (which they do not want). The government had also announced its plan to send another 50,000 troops to Aceh.

In addition, Indonesia´s foreign minister had declared that Jakarta wants all foreign relief workers out of Aceh within three months, something that the defence minister only slightly backtracked on, saying that it was just a target (bench mark) for the time it needs to prepare itself to take over the relief work.

"Is it really necessary to send 50,000 troops more, when Aceh has been devastated by the catastrophe? We don´t really know the reason why they demand to escort the relief workers, but we have declared a unilateral cease-fire in order to facilitate the relief work," Mr Malik says.

There are several reports of military incidents. Has the military’s attacks intensified after the tsunami?

"The number of military operations increased the first week or ten days after the catastrophe. It began in five sub-districts in Eastern Aceh on the second day and spread to other areas."

Mr Malik Mahmood hopes that there can be a way to resume the peace process that led to an agreement in Geneva in December 2002, but afterwards that was sabotaged by the military.

"It was an agreement about a process in three steps, starting with an end of hostilities, continued by a secure and democratic political dialogue involving all sectors of Aceh´s society, followed by elections."

Did it ever come to any dialogue?


Even if Indonesia never has offered more than various forms of autonomy, the demand for full independence is strong in Aceh.

"In 1999 the Acehnese showed massive support for a referendum (one million of Aceh´s four million inhabitants participated in a mass demonstration for that demand)," he reminds us.

The break down of the cease-fire was in May 2003 followed by a new offensive from the Indonesian military in an attempt to smash Gam.

"It was the biggest ever aggression, after they sent another 50,000 soldiers to Aceh (up from 40,000). Emergency laws were introduced and we were attacked by F16 planes, Scorpion tanks and Russian tanks; they used everything they had. Villages were bombed like in Vietnam.

More than 2,300 activists and civilians have been killed since May 2003. A total of at least 13,000 have been killed since 1976, when the armed struggle started.

And now another 50,000 extra soldiers will be sent to Aceh?

"That´s right."

According to Teungku Malik Mahmood, Indonesia´s gets a big income from one of the largest natural gas fields in the world in Aceh, run by ExxonMobil. This is the single most important barrier to a solution of the national conflict. The importance for both the Indonesian state and the military is immense.

What about the possibility of winning support for your struggle from other sectors of Indonesia´s population?

"Everybody that shares the same oppression understands our struggle. There are, for instance, the same feelings in Papua and the Moluccas islands."

And what about ordinary, poor Javanese?

"They are the most oppressed of all. Ordinary Javanese do not get anything from the wealth of Aceh," he says.

Aceh´s government in exile welcomes the humanitarian support from the whole world, including from the creditors of the Paris Club.

"But we want a transparent review of what time periods and projects Indonesia will spend the money on, so they cannot be stolen and used to pay the military offensive against us!"

Mr Malik reminds us that most of the 100 million US dollars per month that the Indonesian state extracts from the natural gas incomes of Exxon Mobil disappear from Aceh. "Very little is coming back".

On the question of how to overcome the mishandling of relief and reconstruction, we explained the demand of the CWI-affiliated United Socialist Party of Sri Lanka that relief operations should be managed and controlled by democratically elected committees of workers, unions and local organisations. "Very good, that should be implemented in Indonesia too," Mr Malik said.

ExxonMobil pay military watch dogs

ExxonMobil, by far the biggest company in the area, is congratulated for its generous support of 5 million US dollars to the victims of the tsunami in Aceh.

But the multinational company is at the same time accused of severe crimes against humanity by the US-based International Labor Rights Fund. It has sued the company on behalf of 11 Acehnese villagers.

According to a press release from (4 Jan) it has been estimated that ExxonMobil up to now could have extracted 40 billion US dollars (!) from its natural gas operations in Aceh. In order to guard the "security" of its profits, Exxon Mobil is accused of having hired units of Indonesia´s military.

The company is now accused of ongoing assaults that contracted soldiers have carried out against local villagers, including murders, disappearances, extortions, rapes and torture. Human rights activists claim that Exxon Mobil continue to pay for military protection and to allow its equipment and resources to be used to construct mass graves to hide their crimes, among other things.

According to Bama Athreya, Deputy Director of the International Labor Rights Fund in Washington, the Indonesian military is an extremely corrupt organisation. "It´s estimated that only about 40% of the military´s basic operating costs are paid for by the Indonesian government. That means they get the other 60% through extortion," he claims. Apart from their jobs as watch dogs of Exxon Mobil, Indonesia´s military is accused of helping to finance themselves through extorting from local villagers and running drug operations and prostitution rings in Aceh. They are accused of being involved in illegal timber operations in the rebellious province.

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January 2005