Gambit for control of Aceh

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 03 Jun 2003


BANDA ACEH: Nasri drags a puff from his cigarette as he ponders his next move on the chessboard.  

The 34-year old Acehnese is a regular in Café Master, a coffee house where chess players here gather to pit their skills. 

About 500m from the coffee shop is the military central command for Aceh, where the provincial martial law administrator Major General Endang Suwarya, strategises his move in the ongoing air, land and sea offensive to crush Free Aceh Movement (GAM). And 10,000 km away in Stockholm, Sweden, a group of GAM leaders meet daily to plot their guerrilla war strategy and send their commands to their fighters using short messaging system.  


While Nasri’s theatre of war is the 64 squares on the chessboard and the military offensive covers an area of 55,390sq km of jungle, island, village and mountain, the chess player sees a similarity between chess and war. 

“The war is like chess. Chess is a game of strategy, so is war. The object of chess is to checkmate your opponent’s king and in war it is kill or be killed,” said the manager. 

However, a difference between chess and war, Nasri said, was the opposing sides in chess were clearly marked as white pieces and black pieces.  

“But here it is not easy to distinguish who is an enemy and who is a friend,” he said. “But when we fought the Dutch (in 1870s), they were tall and white-skinned. Here we are all Indonesians.” 

The other difference, Nasri observed, was that in chess there were rules while in a war there were none. 

One of the strategies of chess is to control the centre of the board. And Nasri said the military had an advantage in its war against GAM as it controlled the centre of Aceh, which is this town.  

“The centre of power in Aceh is in its capital. GAM fighters have only control of pockets of villages all over Aceh,” he said.  

As the conflict entered Day 15, Nasri did not see a quick checkmate by the military. 

“The Acehnese conflict is still far from over. We are not even in the middle of the game – we are just in the opening,” he said. 

Although the military announced that it would crush GAM in six months, Nasri did not think that it was possible. 

“War for Aceh’s independence has been going on for 27 years and you cannot wipe it out in six months,” he said, adding that one of the reasons Acehnese wanted to break away from Indonesia was because it wanted a fair share of the province's natural resources. 

Nasri, who wants to be a chess master in three years, said he played chess to relax.  

“I have actually come here to minimise my stress – right in the middle of the conflict,” he said, adding that occasionally he received calls from GAM, TNI (Indonesian military) and OTK (orang tidak kenal Bahasa Indonesia for unknown people) asking for donation. 

“The callers will claim that they come from GAM or TNI and they ask from one million rupiah (RM450) to 300,000 rupiah (RM138) if not they will kill me,” said Nasri, whose 60-year-old grandmother lives in Kuala Lumpur and is a Malaysian citizen. 

“I refuse to give. I am not afraid as I believe in Allah,” said the chess player, who plays the game for about two hours everyday. 


Nasri said he did not support the military or GAM because both sides were the same. 

“They are corrupted. I support an Islamic state in Indonesia,” said the resident of Aceh, which is the only Indonesian province where Syariah law applies.  

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Aceh since GAM started its insurgency to win independence from Indonesia in 1976. 

And more pawns will be killed in this conflict. 

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