Amri's defection brushed off


BANDA ACEH: A leaflet from a former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) commander was slipped under the door of the rooms at Hotel Sultan here, where most journalists stay, on Thursday night. 

Written in Bahasa Indonesia, it stated: “Comrades return to the motherland, Republic of Indonesia, as the armed separatist struggle GAM has diverted from its objective.” 

The note was from Amri Abdul Wahab, 33, a GAM negotiator in their peace talks with the Indonesian government. 

He had surrendered to the Indonesian military (TNI) on May 13, saying that the separatist movement was unrealistic, as it did not have international support. 


Amri, however, was considered a traitor. He was paid US$9,000 (RM34,200) to defect, a GAM leader told an Aceh tabloid newspaper, Bedee. 

Quoting GAM spokesman Sofyan Daud, the report said Amri’s defection would not have any effect on the guerillas’ morale, as he did not have the respect of GAM fighters.  

Sofyan is one of two GAM commanders in the Aceh battlefield whose arrest or death the TNI believe will deliver a psychological blow to the separatist fighters. The other is Muzakkir Manaf, the GAM military commander in Aceh, also in his 30s. 

“If we get these two leaders, their followers will fall apart,” said Indonesian military spokesman Colonel Ditya Soedarsono. 

However, the Indonesian military does not know the whereabouts of the two commanders. What the military knows is that Sofyan and Muzakkir move from place to place to avoid detection. 

“We have received reports from the public on their whereabouts. But 90% of the time, the information is false,” said Ditya. It is difficult to know the structure of GAM as it is run more like a web of activists abroad – Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States – as well as another complicated web in the jungles and villages of Aceh.  

Each guerilla leader has rather wide autonomy although most of them, especially those who were trained in Libya in the 1980s, like Sofyan and Muzakkir, presumably report to the 80-year-old Hasan Tiro, their top leader and GAM ideologue who lives in Stockholm, Sweden. 

Two other top leaders who also live in Sweden are Malik Mahmud, the 63-year-old GAM “prime minister”, and Zaini Abdullah, the 61-year-old GAM “foreign minister”.  

The Indonesian government has requested Sweden to take stern action against the three GAM leaders, who are Swedish permanent residents, for leading a “terrorist organisation” in Indonesia’s westernmost province, with a population of 4.4 million. 

Sweden has declined to take action on the grounds that they had not violated Swedish laws.  

Stockholm became a base for GAM leaders to fight Jakarta when, in the early 1980s, Husaini Hasan, the chairman of GAM in Europe, fled Indonesia to Malaysia and sought refugee status at the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur. He was offered to stay in Sweden. 

Husaini was among the first batch of Aceh immigrants in Sweden, followed shortly by Tiro, who declared Aceh’s independence from Indonesia on Dec 4, 1976. (See accompanying story on GAM leaders’ profile). 

The strength of GAM in Aceh, before the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) was signed on Dec 9, 2002, was about 2,000 fighters, said Ditya. 

The separatist movement took advantage of the ceasefire between TNI and GAM to increase its fighters to 5,246, he said, adding that “they offered school-leavers and farmers 7mil rupiahs (RM3,240) per head if they joined GAM and Aceh achieved independence.”  

He said the 5,246 fighters, who include about 500 Libyan-trained Acehnese, had 2,126 weapons including M-16s and AK-47s as well as home-made guns.  


Besides the hunt for Sofyan and Muzakkir, the TNI air, sea and land operation in this gas and oil-rich province is to wipe out the armed separatist movement. 

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the 27-year-old conflict and about 100 people, mostly GAM fighters, have been killed since the Indonesian military launched its offensive to crush the separatist movement on May 19.  

  • Another perspective from The Jakarta Post, a partner of Asia News Network. 

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