Since late 1999, there has been a strong movement in favour of holding a referendum to determine Aceh’s future status, as the peaceful way of solving the conflict.
On the initiative of former president Abdurrahman Wahid, negotiations were held between the Indonesian Government and GAM, leading to a “Humanitarian Pause” in June 2000, loosely supervised by the Henri Dunant Centre in Geneva. The armed forces were never happy about this accord and the Pause barely affected the level of killings, which steadily mounted. The talks have now been suspended indefinitely.
Following a decision by Exxon/Mobil in March 2001 to suspend operations, putting at risk monthly revenues of $100 million and the possible loss of international markets, the armed forces prevailed upon a seriously weakened Wahid to issue a “presidential instruction” in April 2001, which was renewed in October 2001. Although this was dubbed a six-point “comprehensive” effort to restore Indonesian administrative control, the only element put into practice has been the “security” element.
On 2 May, new military operations were launched and yet more troops were brought in, including troops who received counter-insurgency training, while armed defences around the gas installations have been reinforced. Since then, the number of casualties throughout Aceh has mounted. During 2001, nearly two thousand people were killed, the vast majority civilians.
Human rights defenders have been a major target; several high-profile activists have been assassinated since August 2000 by military or police hit-squads, and their offices have been raided, forcing many activists to evacuate to Jakarta or abroad. This has seriously affected the flow of independent monitoring of incidents and atrocities.
As pressure mounted for Wahid to be replaced by his vice-president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the armed forces moved to sabotage what remained of the faltering peace process. The final blow was struck in July when five GAM negotiators engaged in talks with their Indonesian counterparts were arrested in Banda Aceh. While five were released, one is now on trial for “rebellion”.
Unlike her predecessor, Megawati, who acceded to the presidency of Indonesia on 23 July 2001, fully supported all-out military action to suppress threats to what she prizes above all else, maintaining the Unitary Republic of Indonesia.
Resisting Wahid’s zeal to reform the military, she had the full support of the hardline military leadership in her bid for power. In late 2001, she ordered the troops “to hold the country together” regardless of whether this means violating human rights.
The prospects for a negotiated settlement do not look good and the “security approach” will keep Aceh in a constant state of all-out war, death and tragedy.