They cannot forgive, cannot forget

By Shahanaaz Habib

BIREUEN: Although the Indonesian military has jailed soldiers who beat up civilians in Kampong Lawang, wounds are still very raw for the people there. 

So much so that even two weeks later, villagers are finding it difficult to forgive the soldiers for the May 27 beating.  

Razali Abdul Rahman who was hit on the head and ribs until he passed out said trying the soldiers in the military court was simply not enough.  

Three soldiers of the Palembang-based Battalion 144 were brought to trial for abuses committed against residents of Lawang village.  

On Monday, the court sentenced them to a four-month and 20 days jail term. A villager Abu Bakar was killed in the incident. 

This is the first time that the Indonesian Military (TNI) held a trial in the midst of an on-going military operation.  

However, Razali cannot forget the pain and humiliation he had been subjected to. 

FEARFUL: These womenfolk at Lawang village are living in fear during the night as all the men stay away from homes to evade the soldiers. Second from right is Amani, third from right is Murshidah. At far left is Norabah.

“How can I forgive them? I am still in so much pain. The military court apologised to us but I cannot accept the apology,” said the farmer who was in a coffee shop, away from his village. 

Insisting that he was not involved with the Gerakan Aceh Movement (GAM), Razali said the soldiers did not even ask questions before beating people up. 

“My ribs are still sore. My head still hurts. My eye is still red from the beatings. 

The soldiers even beat up a mute villager. They should be ashamed of themselves,” he said. 

Hasnawi Shuid used sign language and repeatedly gestured that he was beaten on the knees, shoulder and face and dragged by the feet. 

His mother said she had pleaded with the soldiers to leave her son alone because “he is mute and innocent” but they did not listen.  

Speaking in sign language, Hasnawi said he did not want an apology from the soldiers. “I am innocent, a civilian. I cannot forgive them. 

“I don't need their apology,” he said gesturing again and again how he was hit.  

When TNI started its offensive against Aceh on May 19 to crush the GAM rebels who were seeking an independent state, it also embarked on a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the people.  

But going by the response in this village and the ones near by, this campaign does not seem to be working as planned. 

M. Jaafar who was poked with a knife on his side by soldiers said he was still very angry. 

“We have been cheated for a long time by those in command in Jakarta. There is no development here in Aceh. There is no fairness. 

“GAM is seeking independence for Aceh. We the people agree with this cause. We are thinking of the future well-being of our children,” he said.  

Now the men from the village are just too frightened to sleep in their homes.  

The memory of the beatings still fresh in their minds, they have taken to spending the nights together in a meunasah (surau) about 5km away from the village. 

In the mornings, they head back to the village to check on their wives and children. 

For extra safety, they have dug a deep pit on the sand road leading to their village to stop military vehicles from getting through.  

When “friendly” vehicles like those of members of the press want to get to the village, the people bring out two pieces of strong wood and put it across the pit for the vehicle to pass. 

But they are quick to remove these as soon as the vehicle passes through. The women in the village speak of the difficulty and fear they face at night because all their men were away.  

“What can we do? It is for their safety that the men have to go away at night. But we are really frightened to stay here,” said Amani Sulaiman.  

Her house was bare because the soldiers threw all her furniture into one of the room and burnt it when she refused to give them money. 

“We are all still in trauma. We are really scared. If we hear the soldiers coming back, we are going to run; where to, I don't know, maybe into the jungle behind. We leave our fate to Allah,” she said.  

The jungle behind is a GAM hide-out area. 

“We know of young boys who go into the jungle and sleep there at night,” said Amani, who has written in chalk on the wall of the bare hall in her home the May 27 date.  

“This is to remind me never to forget the terror I went through,” she said.  

Norabah Shubadah said one of the soldiers demanded that her 18-year old daughter remove her clothes.  

“I grabbed on to her and pleaded 'jangan pak jangan' (don't sir don't) and he left,” she said. 

After living through the “dark day” of May 27, the most important task now for women like Murshidah Yaakob was keeping the women and children safe and making sure they had enough to eat.  

“We want independence because we do not want to suffer like this,” she said as the other women who had gathered around all nodded their heads in agreement and shouted “merdeka” in defiance.  

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