Long-suffering Aceh folk hope peace will come soon


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 05 Jun 2003

BY SHAHANAAZ HABIB AND PHILIP GOLINGAI

BANDA ACEH: In any conflict, it is usually the ordinary folk who suffer most. This is true too of the Aceh conflict which has been going on for 27 “long” years.  

When Indonesia declared martial law here on May 19 and embarked on a major offensive to finish off the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist rebels, one would have thought that people in combat-prone areas would start fleeing their homes in recent weeks. 

It is not however so. In Gedung Sosial for example, the people seeking refuge here have been displaced from their homes since 2001. It is because of a seemingly never-ending conflict between the Indonesian military (TNI) and GAM.  

Among them are Mariana who said her farm in Takengon, Central Aceh was burnt and her land seized in 2001 by “unknown persons” who attacked the village.  

“Those of us who managed to escape made our way to Biruen or Sigli or other areas to stay with relatives. We put up at their place for almost two years,” she said.  

And when there was a ceasefire between Indonesia and GAM in December last year (2002) and peace negotiations were under way, the joint security committee (JSC) comprising both sides and mediator Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) “invited” these displaced persons to return home to Takengon.  

“Many of us did. Although, we did not have homes or land anymore, we stayed at the camp near a mosque in hope for a peace settlement. But we were there for only two weeks before a group of men, wearing uniforms and carrying weapons came and terrorised us. They told us that we cannot stay there anymore because they could not guarantee our safety,” she said.  

The next morning, she said her group went to the district office nearby. Mariana said when they related the incident, the office told them the same thing – that it was difficult to guarantee their safety and it was better to heed the warning. She said they were then given a token sum of 50,000 rupiah (RM24) each for transport out of the area. 

“Although the money was not enough, we had no choice. We'd rather leave the area than die,” said Mariana who has been in Banda Aceh for three months now since the incident. 

Like many others from her area, she chose not to go to her relatives' home this time because it was “unfair to burden them financially”.  

Mariana and her 18-month-old daughter now sleeps on a flattened box on the floor in the hall of Gedung Sosial, along with about 400 others.  

They have been promised new homes in other villages and they are still waiting. Humanitarian groups like the Peoples' Crisis Centre and the Red Crescent are there to supply food and other necessities to the group. “I have enough to eat. I ate rice last night for dinner and I had rice again this morning for breakfast,” said a woman who declined to be named. There is enough water for bathing but only one toilet is working. 

Aznam, another displaced person in Gedung Sosial said he used to be just an ordinary farmer. “I have no weapons. But I do not want to go back there because it seems to me that humanity is dead,” he said.  

Muhammad who also saw his house burnt to the ground in 2001 by “unknown persons” said he does not harbour any anger and feelings of vengeance towards any one for the plight he is now in. 

“There are lots of mosquitoes at night so we light mosquito coils to try and keep them away. Otherwise we cannot sleep. But why should I be mad at anyone?  

“We are in a conflict. And this is the risk our people have to bear,” he said. 

Muhammad has experienced much in the conflict between TNI and GAM. He witnessed friends turning against him and the people in the village. “Some of the 40 or so people who threatened us at the camp in Takengon were friends – people I know. But they are now part of the milisi – civilians who take up arms and act on their own.” 

He said it was uncertain whether this third group was acting under the orders of TNI because they claimed to be part of GAM.  

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