Bouquets and Bullets

 

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TEMPO Magazine, NO. 29/I/March 27 - April 2, 2001

 

Bouquets and Bullets

 

The government has decided to carry out a `limited' security operation in Aceh. Why return to a hard-line approach when the military operations region era saw so many casualties?

 

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Not a day passes in Aceh without the sound of gunfire. Last week, nearly every day saw another casualty. Shots were fired at the helicopter carrying the Minister of Energy & Mineral Resources Purnomo Yusgiantoro on a visit to ExxonMobil last Tuesday. The liquefied natural gas (LNG) refinery stopped operating March 9 for security reasons, at a cost to the nation of Rp1 trillion a month. This is despite the government and the Free Aceh Movement's armed forces (AGAM) agreeing on a peace zone in North Aceh and Bireuen regencies two weeks ago last Monday. Last Friday, two mobile police brigade (Brimob) officers and seven civilians died.

 

The present grave situation in Aceh is what pushed Minister of Defense Mahfud Md. to insist on a "limited military operation". He explicitly stated that the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) was unable to reach a peaceful solution. Last Wednesday, President Abdurrahman Wahid agreed to the operation.

 

The National Police are currently carrying out Operation Cinta Meunasah in Aceh, but the situation has not been brought under control. "The police do not have the capability to deal with the threat," says Indonesian Military Information Center chief Air Force Lt. Gen. Graito Usodo. So, six company-sized units (each of about 600 men) have been posted to Aceh. "The troops are ready for action," says Graito.

 

The decision to put the limited military operation plan into effect came out of a March 12 political, social and security affairs cabinet meeting. The "hard-line package" is one section of a 6-part government policy for ending the Aceh problem. The others are the granting of special autonomy, a legal program for humans rights abusers and economic, culture and social packages.

 

Of course there are differences of opinion over the use of the `limited' military operation term. Coordinating Minister for Political, Social & Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono insists that it is wrong. The correct description is a highly focused and transparent limited security operation. "They [those carrying out the operation] have a real understanding of human rights principles so there will be no needless civilian casualties," he claims.

 

That is open to question. The issue of whether it is a limited military operation or limited security operation even has military experts confused. According to Hendropriyono, former commander of the Jakarta Military Area and the Lampung Black Garuda Military District, the best expression is "limited war". "That means that the targets and areas must really be limited," says this former special forces (Kopassus) member.

 

Far more important, though, is that the troops on the ground-let alone the people of Aceh-have yet to recover from surviving the "military operations region". Operation Red Net, which turned Aceh into a military operations region for 10 years, and the violence that followed, have left a lingering trauma.

 

So if the decision is taken to put the limited military operation into effect, there must be extensive preparations. According to Research Institute for Democracy & Peace defense expert Riefki Muna, the most important requirement is good intelligence. "With such data, the word `limited' can actually be applied on the ground," he says. With good intelligence information, the risk of shooting or arresting the wrong people can be minimized.

 

But in Aceh that's no easy task as TNI's opponents have a firm conviction in what they are fighting for: an independent Aceh. It is a difficult undertaking for the army because the movement involves civilians. It is very hard to see which combatants are civilians. It's also important to remember that GAM has much more control of the battleground. One moment a GAM member is carrying a weapon and the next he's a farmer in the field or is blending in with others at the market, says Riefki.

 

What is more, according to Maimul Fidar, executive director of the Coalition of Human Rights NGOs, the cost of feeding 20,000 troops is Rp12 billion a month. According to the coalition's records, the cost of all military operations-from Operation Red Net until the Humanitarian Pause and current police operation-has reached Rp751 billion. Of course this eye-popping figure does not include funds corruptly misdirected.

 

Even at this high cost, there's no guarantee that the operation will succeed. It may; if the principles outlined in the article titled `Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency' are adhered to. This article states that if killings of hundreds of people, oppression, killings of children, expulsions of people from their homes, kidnappings, rapes, executions, robberies or massacres take place then the so- called limited military operation will have failed.

 

Can TNI prevent this happening after the "hard-line" culture already seen in operations in Aceh and other troubled regions? It is difficult-if not downright impossible-especially when the aim is not just to eliminate separatist force but, "to win the hearts of the Acehnese," says Riefki Muna.

 

Winning hearts is tricky. The Acehnese, most of who have suffered terribly as a result of the GAM-TNI conflict, must be given a clear explanation of the difference between the forthcoming "limited" operation and other operations like Red Net. Furthermore, the military must give periodic reports on the operation's success. According to Riefki this is important because it will maintain the transparency of the operation and will preclude later accusations of human rights abuses.

 

But most important of all is the political umbrella. This means the decision to send in troops is a political one made in good faith.

 

Maybe the operation will win acceptance. But it's a step backwards in the Jakarta-Aceh relationship. The peaceful road via the Humanitarian Pause has been replaced by a military operation that carries a grave risk of human rights abuses. And the Acehnese people are at risk again, a negotiated solution on hold for the time being. The "hard- line way" is being tried again-although it is indeed partly a consequence of the actions of the separatists in Aceh. And the TNI, who've tried and failed for decades to solve the problem militarily, has once again become an important player in the never-ending search for a solution to the chaos in Aceh. A true case of `Mission Impossible'.

 

Bina Bektiati, Andari Karina Anom, Darmawan Sepriyossa (Jakarta) and Kamal Farza (Aceh)

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