A tortured grandmother relives the horrors of Aceh

Useful Articles



Sydney Morning Herald , 29/08/98

A tortured grandmother relives the horrors of Aceh


The people of Aceh, in Indonesia's own killing fields, can finally speak out

about the atrocities they have endured. Herald Correspondent LOUISE WILLIAMS

reports from Pidie, northern Aceh.


"DID they hurt you, Mama?" the old woman's children and grandchildren asked, when she was dumped back in her rice farming village by soldiers from Indonesia's elite special forces.


"No," she lied, staying silent, painfully edging her thin, battered body around her tiny home, her flowing Muslim clothes concealing her injuries, her head bent down against the tears.


Sixty-year-old Jumpa Amin had been held for more than two months in what locals called the Rumah Geudong, or big house, once owned by a petty royal from the days when the Sultanate of Aceh, in northern Sumatra, held sway over much of the region's trade. Everyone knew what happened at the big house - how their friends and neighbours were tortured, raped, humiliated and murdered by brutal men who boasted of their cruelty and swung their car-keys on gruesome trophies of dried flesh, carved off their victims.


"I was told to say we ate three delicious meals a day and were treated well, otherwise I would be taken again and never come back," Jumpa recalls, fighting back tears.


The slight grandmother was never the soldiers' target. But when her husband heard he was wanted by the special forces, Kopassus, he ran, so they took her instead. She walked out of her home without any extra clothes, expecting to be back by nightfall. Her husband was just an old rice farmer, nothing more, she thought.


When the first soldier threw a cup of burning coffee in her face, demanding to know where her husband was hiding, she told them she didn't know.


When the young men and local informers stripped off her clothes and clipped electrodes on her nipples and ears, in front of all the other prisoners, she passed out. Four times she was given electric shocks this way. The soldiers accused her over and over again of giving goats to rebels fighting for an independent Aceh.


Then, suddenly she is angry, banging her fist down on the bare wooden table, tears streaming.


"They kept on saying, "Where are you guns?' But I haven't even seen any guns. I was slapped and kicked until I couldn't feel anything any more. My clothes were soaked with blood.


"I just thought if I died in that place my family wouldn't even be allowed to see my body."


Around Jumpa, a huddle of village women are now crying too, as much because of their own terrible stories as the story that is being told.


Last weekend, the Indonesian Human Rights Commission began the first official investigation into almost a decade of horror in the cool green rice farming villages and dense rainforests of Aceh, the northernmost province of Sumatra.


Since 1989, when the region was declared a military operation zone and thousands of troops were deployed by the then Soeharto Government against a straggly band of independence fighters, terrible stories of summary executions, dumped bodies, public rapes and scalpings have trickled out.


The province was closed to the media, the allegations dismissed by the Indonesian Government, the local people taught to fear even their neighbours.


After the Soeharto Government fell, the Rumah Geudong remained filled with prisoners, including Jumpa. But when the tide began to turn against the military and pressure built for a resolution of decades of human rights abuses, the house was closed and the local informers fled.


The Armed Forces chief, General Wiranto, recently apologised to the people of Aceh and ordered the first of the troops out. Only then did the people begin to talk.


After three days of digging at sites of mass graves, the commission concluded that the shattered skulls and remains of blindfolds and bindings were evidence of massacres in Aceh. The provisional findings of the first days of the investigation listed 782 documented killings, 368 cases of torture, 168 missing people and 102 reported rapes.


Local human rights organisations say there are thousands buried in the mass graves, and thousands more cases not yet reported.


Privately, international humanitarian agencies say they fear for those who were still being held in military camps before the rights commission arrived. The camps were empty, and the prisoners remain missing, feared dead.


In Pidie alone, 589 people have been listed as missing by the Legal Aid Foundation this week.


The commission's secretary-general, Baharuddin Lopa, said: "It is clear there was a massacre in Aceh. I don't want to hear any government official pretend the widespread killing of civilians during the operations in Aceh never happened."


Rosmawati, mother of a missing adult son, says: "Wiranto says sorry. We do not accept that. We are tortured, raped and killed and only get an apology. What good will that bring to us? We want these men brought to trial.


"Look at us, look at what has happened here. Our families are destroyed, our husbands and sons gone. How will our children grow up with all this trauma?"


But the problem for the Habibie Government is just how far the military can be pushed. Aceh is not an isolated case of a few bad soldiers, it was a long-term military operation. The regional commander in the early 1990s, when the worst abuses occurred, was General Syarwan Hamid. He is now the Home Affairs Minister.


"To try to contain this investigation will be very difficult," said a diplomat who has visited the province. "The military is now fighting to save its image and some very senior people were involved in Aceh."


The province' history is one of jealously guarded independence and local pride. The maritime power of the Dutch East Indies Company broke Aceh's control of the pepper trade in the late 1800s,but it took the soldiers of the Dutch colonial administration another year of fighting, which cost thousands of lives, before the Dutch flag could be raised over the capital.


Even then, the Dutch never truly conquered Aceh, and in the jungle a "holy war" raged between the Muslim Acehnese guerillas and the Christian Dutch.


In the anti-colonial struggle, Aceh became an important base for Indonesian freedom fighters. But after independence was won, the Acehnese people felt cheated, their province coming under the control of the politically and economically powerful Javanese they had helped to defeat the Dutch.


Aceh is one of the richest provinces in Indonesia, but its natural gas, timber, rubber, palm oil and coffee were channelled through Jakarta under the Soeharto Government, and little of the profits were ploughed back into Aceh. Resentment simmered as the biggest houses and the best jobs were handed to outsiders while the locals remained poor.


In the late 1980s, the Indonesian Government claimed the jungles of Aceh concealed 1,000 guerilla fighters from a movement called Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh), which was supposedly armed by Libya.


Locals say some guns did arrive, but diplomats believe the rebels were perhaps only 500 strong, a force diminished to perhaps a handful under the crushing weight of nine years of military control. The Aceh Merdeka disappeared but the fear remained. Informers who failed to report "suspects" were threatened with violence, and communities turned on themselves.


"It is clear there was a very excessive deployment of troops," the diplomat said. "There was a brutal campaign of fear without respect for due process. There are signs of the killing fields in Aceh."


In three days of traveling through Aceh, there were many stories of pain and fear, but little talk of independence.


At a university in Banda Aceh, the capital, a group of academics sits debating the future. Aceh, they say, is not like the predominantly Christian provinces of East Timor and Irian Jaya, which have been fighting for independence against the central Government. The crushing of Aceh Merdeka, says sociologist Otto Syamsuddin, was "like killing a mosquito with a cannon".


A colleague, Achmad Humum Hamid, asked for volunteers to go door-to-door across the province and finally seek the truth. More than 17,000 people volunteered.


"We are hoping for an Indonesian court to hear these cases. If we Indonesians want to come clean and advance into the next century and rebuild this nation, we have to address this in a systematic way."




Email: saf_sverige@yahoo.se

Welcome - Välkommen