Indonesian army unleashes bloody assault

Stephen Jolly, Socialist Party, Australia (CWI)

Socialist Voice June 2003

The Indonesian army has launched a ferocious military assault in Aceh in an attempt to destroy the pro-independence Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and to cow the local population.

"The four-year-old child was left tied to the body [of his father] from 4pm on Wednesday until 10am today. The child was voiceless because he had cried so much. His screams had been heard through the night, but fear of Indonesian military reprisals in the dark hours prevented local villagers from rescuing him" Weekend Australian 24 May 2003.

This is the reality of life facing the four million people of Aceh after the invasion last week by 50,000 Indonesian troops of the TNI. 23 naval vessels, air force planes, tanks, artillery and 13,000 armed police back these troops. They face the 5,000 fighters of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Indonesian President Megawati Sukarniputri ordered the huge army incursion on 19 May, putting Aceh under martial law, to begin with for six months.

The TNI plans to round up vast chunks of the Acehnese population into 82 camps, as the Americans tried to do to the local population during the Vietnam War.

Western governments' restrained response

Western governments have made, at best, half-hearted requests for the Jakarta government to be restrained in its invasion. The Australian government of John Howard says the war in Aceh is an "internal matter", which is not what they said about Iraq earlier this year! The British government wants to keep its valuable customer Indonesia happy with military hardware. Four of the thirteen Indonesian planes being used in the invasion are British-made Hawk-200 fighters, "sold on the understanding that they would not be used for internal repression" (Guardian 20/5/03). The Bush administration in the US wants Indonesian co-operation in the "war on terror" and will not want to upset Jakarta.

The Socialist Party supports self-determination for the people of Aceh, including independence if they want it. Only by adopting such a position can the working class and progressive forces in Indonesia and elsewhere gain the ear of the people of Aceh.

It is in the class interests of working people of Indonesia to see the people of Aceh win their national and democratic rights. This would mean a big blow for the ruling class in Jakarta (and a defeat for imperialism everywhere), which in turn would strengthen the working class of Indonesia and the fight for real change in society.

Of course we also argue for a socialist Aceh, as the only way to enable democratic control over the vast wealth of the area and to ensure it is used for social need and not for private profit. Given the desperate poverty levels in Aceh, it is vital a struggle for a fundamental change in society is linked to the wider region. Therefore we call for a socialist Aceh as part of a socialist confederation of the region. Supporting the right of self-determination of Aceh is the only way to strengthen the unity of the workers and peasants of both Aceh and Indonesia.

In the 1950s, the CIA backed the Aceh independence fighters when they were opposing the left-nationalist Indonesian President, Sukarno, who in turn was backed by the massive Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

At the time, the PKI put national integration ahead of Aceh's democratic right to self-determination, thereby walking all over basic Marxist principles. They were under strict instructions from their masters in Moscow to keep Sukarno on side at all costs. This Stalinist policy of tail-ending the so-called 'progressive' section of the capitalist class was to lead to the annihilation of the PKI in 1965, (which saw up to three million communists killed). From out of this bloodbath, the right wing dictatorship of Suharto ruled for decades, until a mass movement of youth and workers overthrew him in the late 1990s.

For Indonesian President Megawati (Sukarno's daughter) the invasion is a useful diversion in the run-up to the April 2004 general elections. At the moment, there is reportedly strong support across Indonesia for the military assault, and the big protests against cuts to food subsidies have abated. The victory of the Suharto counter-revolution in 1965 was a disaster for Aceh. Since then the central government fleeced it of its fossil fuels and forests and a policy of Javanese transmigration to Aceh was employed to give Jakarta a social base in the area.

In 1976, GAM was formed, with Libyan-backing. In 1989 they stepped up their military resistance to Indonesian rule and over 12,000 people have been killed since then, mainly by the TNI. Over 100,000 refugees have been created by the low-level war.

No democratic capitalist solution

The fall of Suharto in 1998 appeared to hold out hope of a settlement to the conflict, but the 'democratic capitalism' promised by the new government was a sham and in 2001 a new military offensive was announced by the central government.

Last ditch efforts to resuscitate the negotiations, proposed by the US, with backing from the EU and Japan, failed to persuade the Indonesian government to step back. Talks scheduled in Tokyo for the weekend 17-18 May were wrecked by Indonesian officials who demanded the GAM surrender their separatist demands and hand over its arsenal of weapons.

This new invasion of Aceh takes the repression to a new height. But there will be no military solution to Aceh. In fact, Megawati is creating a Vietnam-style situation for herself. She has clearly sided with the reactionary tops of the powerful armed forces of Indonesia in regards to plans for Aceh. But the issue goes wider. The utilisation of the army serves as a warning to the left and working class movement throughout Indonesia of future possible events if a mass socialist alternative to poverty, unemployment, corruption and oppression is not built.

* Withdraw Indonesian Troops Now!
* For an independent, socialist Aceh, and a socialist confederation of the region

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