Following is a compilation of coverage as part of series ‘Crisis in Aceh.’ It comprises of articles that are focused on human interest, military, mismanagement, globalization and justice, environment and market economy, and ban extension on Sidney Jones. In chronological order. The highlights are mine.
Source: India Together
Date: 11 Jan 2005
Tsunami, Mangroves and Market Economy
By Devinder Sharma
The Tsunami of 26 December did not invade several coastlines to the degree it did many others because of mangroves and coral reefs. Mangroves offer double protection, but India has seen their rampant cutting down in favour of tourism and shrimp farming, says Devinder Sharma.
As the first news reports of the devastation caused by the tsunami killer waves began to pour in, a newsreader on Aaj Tak’s Headline Today television channel asked his correspondent reporting from the scene of destruction in Tamil Nadu in south of India: “Any idea about how much is the loss to business? Can you find that out because that would be more important for our business leaders?”
Little did the newscaster realise or even know that the tsunami disaster, which eventually turned out to be a catastrophe, was more or less the outcome of faulty business and economics. Since the 1980s, the Asian sea-coast region has been plundered by the large industrialised shrimp firms that brought environmentally-unfriendly aquaculture to its sea shores. Shrimp cultivation, rising to over 8 billion tonnes a year in the year 2000, had already played havoc with the fragile eco-systems. The ‘rape-and-run’ industry, as the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) once termed it, was largely funded by the World Bank. Nearly 72 per cent of the shrimp farming is confined to Asia.
Shrimp farms are abandoned every 2-5 years, leaving behind toxic waste and destroyed ecosystems. The whole cycle is then repeated in another pristine coastal area.
The expansion of shrimp farming was at the cost of tropical mangrove forests — amongst the world’s most important ecosystems. Each acre of mangrove forest destroyed results in an estimated 676 pounds loss in marine harvest. Mangrove swamps have been nature’s protection for the coastal regions from the large waves, weathering the impact of cyclones, and serving as a nursery for three-fourth of the commercial fish species that spend part of their life cycle in the swamps. Mangroves in any case were one of the world’s most threatened habitats but instead of replanting the mangrove swamps, faulty economic policies only hastened its disappearance.
Ecologists tell us that mangroves provide double protection – the first layer of red mangroves with their flexible branches and tangled roots hanging in the coastal waters absorb the first shock waves. The second layer of tall black mangroves than operates like a wall withstanding much of the sea’s fury. Mangroves in addition absorb more carbon dioxide per unit area than ocean phytoplankton, a critical factor in global warming.
Shrimp farming has continued its destructive spree, eating away more than half of the world’s mangroves. Since the 1960’s, for instance, aquaculture and industrial development in Thailand resulted in a loss of over 65,000 hectares of mangroves. In Indonesia, Java lost 70 per cent of its mangroves, Sulawesi 49 per cent and Sumatra 36 per cent. So much so that at the time the tsunami struck in all its fury, logging companies were busy axing mangroves in the Aceh province of Indonesia for exports to Malaysia and Singapore.
In India, mangrove cover has been reduced to less than a third of its original in the past three decades. Between 1963 and 1977, India destroyed nearly 50 per cent of its mangroves. Local communities were forcibly evicted to make way for the shrimp farms. In Andhra Pradesh, more than 50,000 people were forcibly removed and millions displaced throughout the country to make room for the aquaculture farms. Whatever remained of the mangroves was cut down by the hotel industry, virtually aided and abetted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Industries.
Five-star hotels, golf courses, industries, and mansions sprung up all along disregarding the concern being expressed by environmentalists. These two ministries worked overtime to dilute the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms thereby allowing the hotels to even take over the 500 meter buffer that was supposed to be maintained along the beach. In an era of market economy that was reflected through a misplaced Shining India slogan, bureaucrats are in league with the industrialists and big business interests.
The tourism boom in the Asia-Pacific region coincided with the destructive fallout of the growth in shrimp cultivation. Over the last decade, tourist arrivals and receipts rose faster than any other region in the world, almost twice the rates of industrialized countries. Projections for the year 2010 indicate that the region will surpass the Americas to become the world’s number two tourism region, with 229 million arrivals. What is being projected as an indicator of spectacular economic growth hides the enormous environmental costs that these countries have suffered and will have to undergo in future.
In the past two decades, the entire coastline along the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, and Strait of Malacca in the Indian Ocean and all along the South Pacific Ocean has been a witness to massive investments in tourism and hotels. But Myanmar and Maldives suffered very less from the killing spree of the tsunami because the tourism industry had so far not spread its tentacles to the virgin mangroves and coral reefs surrounding the coastline. The large coral reef surrounding the islands of Maldives absorbed much of the tidal fury thereby restricting the human loss to a little over 100 dead. Coral reef absorbs the sea’s fury by breaking the waves.
The tragedy however is that more than 70 per cent of world’s coral reef has already been destroyed. The island chain of Surin off the west coast of Thailand similarly escaped heavy destruction. The ring of coral reef that surrounds the islands did receive some punching from the furious waves but remained firm and thereby helped break the lethal power of the tsunami. Mangroves also help to protect offshore coral reefs by filtering out the silt flowing seawards from the land. Tourism growth, whether in the name of eco-tourism or leisure tourism, decimated the mangroves and destroyed the coral reefs.
If only the mangroves were intact, the damage from tsunami would have been greatly minimized. It happened earlier in Bangladesh. In 1960, a tsunami wave hit the coast in an area where mangroves were intact. There was not a single human loss. These mangroves were subsequently cut down and replaced with shrimp farms. In 1991, thousands of people were killed when a tsunami of the same magnitude hit the same region. In Tamil Nadu, in south India, Pichavaram and Muthupet with dense mangroves suffered low human casualties and less economic damage from the Dec 26 tsunami. Earlier, the famed mangroves of Bhiterkanika in Orissa (which also serve as the breeding ground for the olive-ridley turtles) had reduced the impact of the ‘super cyclone’ that had struck in Oct 1999, killing over 10,000 people and rendering millions homeless.
The epicenter of the Dec 26 killer tsunami was close to Simeuleu Island, in Indonesia. The death toll on this particular island was significantly low simply because the inhabitants had the traditional knowledge about tsunami that happened after a quake. In Nias Island, which is close to Simeuleu, mangroves had acted like a wall helping people from the destruction. The challenge for the developing countries is to learn from the time-tested methods that have been perfected by the local communities.
Look at the comparative advantage of protecting environment and thereby reducing the havoc from the growth-oriented market economy. Having grown tenfold in the last 15 years, shrimp farming is now a US$9 billion industry. It is estimated that shrimp consumption in North America, Japan and Western Europe has increased by 300 per cent within the last ten years. But one massive wave of destruction caused by the Dec 26 tsunami in 11 Asian countries alone has surpassed the economic gain that the shrimp industry claims to have harvested by several times. With over 150,000 people dead, the staggering social and economic loss will take some time to be ascertained.
World governments have so far pledged US$4 billion in aid. This does not including the billions that are being spent by relief agencies. World Bank is in addition considering boosting the aid packet to US$1.5 billion. It has already given (Jan 10, 2005) US$175 million, and bank President James Wolfensohn has been quoted as saying: “We can go up to even $1 billion to $1.5 billion depending on the needs…” In addition, the World Food Programme (WFP) plans to feed some 2 million survivors for the next six months. The feeding operation is likely to cost US$180 million. But if only successive presidents of the World Bank had refrained from aggressively promoted ecologically unsound but market friendly economic policies, a lot of human lives could have been saved.
But can Wolfensohn justify the financial backing doled out to the aquaculture and tourism sectors by drawing a balance sheet of the costs and benefits, including the social cost involved? After all, despite warning by ecologists and environmentalists, the World Bank turned a deaf ear. The magnitude of the disaster was only exacerbated by the neoliberal economic policies that pushed economic growth at the expanse of human life. It was the outcome of an insane economic system – led by the World Bank and the Internation Monetary Fund (IMF) – that believes in usurping environment, nature and human lives for the sake of the unsustainable economic growth for a few.
Take the shrimp farms, for instance. The life cycle of a shrimp farm is a maximum of two to five years. The ponds are then abandoned leaving behind toxic waste, destroyed ecosystems and displaced communities, annihilating livelihoods. The farms come up at the cost of natural ecosystems including mangroves. The whole cycle is then repeated in another pristine coastal area. The WWF and other environmental organisations have quoted one estimate — economic losses due to the shrimp farms are approximately five times the potential earnings.
Tourism is no better. Kerala in south India, marketed as “God’s own country”, destroyed the mangroves in a desperate bid to lure the tourists. It is only after tsunami struck that the state government was quick to announce an Rs 340-million project aimed at insulating the Kerala coastline against tidal surges. Other tourist destinations in Asia will now probably go for a rethinking.
The question therefore that needs to be asked is whether we need to extract a heavy human toll before we realize the follies of aping the market economy mantra blindly? How many more need to die and how many millions we want to go homeless before we realize the grave mistake? Who will hold governments and free market economists responsible for the human loss and suffering?
(Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based food and agriculture policy analyst. Responses can be mailed to: email@example.com) Further information on Devinder Sharma may be found at http://indiatogether.org/opinions/dsharma/
Source: Reuters – Analysis
Date: 20 Jan 2005
Asia’s Tsunami Builds Global Military Ties
By Mark Bendeich
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Asia’s tsunami has turned into a military confidence-building exercise on a global scale, as armed forces work alongside each other and forge personal relationships that could one day avert a crisis.
But there are doubts the post-tsunami bonhomie between military chiefs will prompt political leaders to carry military ties to a higher level, with their strategic interests unchanged.
The biggest international natural disaster in living memory has drawn together U.S., Asian and European forces in the name of humanitarian aid, deepening relationships among commanders.
“These relationships have been tested… and the result of that test has been very successful cooperation and that’s precisely what we expect for the future,” Admiral Thomas Fargo, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said on Thursday.
“We will only build and get better in this respect.”
A senior Southeast Asian air force officer agreed.
“The relationships have always been close,” he told Reuters after an informal meeting of regional defence chiefs in Malaysia. “We know each other by name and call each other by phone.”
Around 40,000 military personnel from more than a dozen nations poured into disaster areas around the Indian Ocean to ferry aid to the survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunami, which killed more than 225,000 people in a dozen countries.
The United States and Indian defence forces have together deployed more than 32,000 troops, sailors and aircrew in what is for each its biggest international peacetime relief effort.
Japan is deploying around 1,000 troops, its largest military mission for disaster assistance since World War Two. China’s army airlifted tonnes of relief supplies — the country’s record humanitarian aid pledges reflecting its growing diplomatic clout.
Fargo said deeper relationships had been forged between military forces at both senior and junior officer levels. Such ties could help avoid future misunderstandings at sea, in the air or on land and avert a hostile incident.
“Certainly these personal relationships count,” he said. “For example, when this disaster happened, all of the senior military leaders were on the phone to each other within a matter of hours.
“And that’s exactly the way that I would expect we would handle any significant security concern.”
But That’s Close Enough
Military ties in the Indian and Pacific Oceans are maintained every year via war games, some actually aimed at ensuring smooth cooperation at times of natural disaster, a U.S. officer said.
In 1991, U.S. and Asian forces worked beside each other in a relief effort in Bangladesh after a cyclone killed some 138,000 people. Troops from rivals India and Pakistan also joined in.
And the first signs in the aftermath of last month’s tsunami were could build new military relationships.
On a visit to the devastated Indonesian region of Aceh after the tsunami, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz suggested it was time to raise contact with Indonesian forces, out of favour due to their human rights record, and ease limits on military sales to Jakarta.
But the chances of the U.S. Congress approving arms sales to Indonesia appear mixed. Opinion is divided between Republicans and Democrats, who have asked to first see progress on human rights.
Mark Valencia, a maritime security expert based in Hawaii, said he doubted the relief effort would also make U.S. forces any more welcome in the Strait of Malacca, a focus of global security concerns and one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
“I don’t think they can use this… to prise their way into the Malacca Strait,” he said, citing reports that Indonesia demanded U.S. aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, used as a base for Aceh relief flights, to leave its waters while its flight crews carried out training flights.
The Strait of Malacca, which runs past Aceh, is policed by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. U.S. offers to help secure it against attacks on shipping have met a mostly wary response.
Relations between Southeast Asian nations have shown close personal and trading ties do not necessarily progress to military cooperation.
Australia’s military has deployed about 1,000 personnel for tsunami relief in Indonesia and has regular contact with several of the region’s forces, but its government recently declined to sign the Southeast Asian non-aggression pact.
Regional governments discuss security issues but meetings of Southeast Asian commanders are strictly informal. At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur this week in the wake of the tsunami, they shied away from serious multi-lateral issues. Some spent about as much time playing golf as they did in meetings.
(Additional reporting by Dayan Candappa in Colombo and Vicky Allen in Washington)
Source: UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme)
Date: 21 Jan 2005
Asian Tsunami Inflicts Severe Damage on Indonesia’s Environment
New report provides important lessons for Kobe conference ending on good progress re- environment and disaster risk reduction.
Beyond the horrific loss of human life, the earthquake and resulting tsunami of 26 December 2004 had enormous impacts on Indonesia’s coastal environment, causing damage and loss to natural habitats and important ecosystem functions.
According to a preliminary damage and loss assessment of the disaster carried out by the Government of Indonesia and the international donor community the economic cost to the environment has been estimated at approximately $675 million. UNEP was one of the key contributors to the report.
Commenting on the report, Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said, “These latest findings from just one of the affected countries show that there have been significant consequences for the environment and for the livelihoods of local people as a result of the tsunami. They underline how the environment can be both a victim and both a buffer against vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters”.
This issue, namely the central role of a healthy environment in long-term disaster risk reduction, had been taken on board by delegates at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction which closes tomorrow in the Japanese city of Kobe, he said.
“First and foremost we must continue to respond to the terrible human tragedy and humanitarian relief effort in Indonesia, and other countries affected by the tsunami,” added Mr. Toepfer.
“But, it is clear that the recovery and reconstruction process underway must also invest in the environmental capital of natural resources, the forests, mangroves, and coral reefs that are nature’s buffer to such disasters and their consequences,” he said.
Among critical coastal habitats in Aceh and North Sumatra, 25,000 hectares (ha) of mangroves, 30% of 97,250 ha of previously existing coral reefs, and 20% of 600 ha of seegrass beds have been damaged according to the new report. The economic loss is valued at $118.2 million, $332.4 million, and $2.3 million respectively.
As a result of infiltration of saline water, sediment and sludge, it is estimated that 7.5 kilometres of river mouth is in need of rehabilitation, and hundreds of wells in the rural area need to be cleaned up.
Along the coastal strip, it is estimated that 48,925 ha of forest area was affected, with the assumption that 30% of this area has been lost. In addition, large areas – approximately 300 kilometres – of coastal land area have been degraded or lost.
The report also notes the importance of properly managing the collection, processing and disposal of the huge amount of debris and waste caused by the tsunami. If not properly managed, wastes may pose a risk to human health as well as ecological functions.
Local environmental management capacity – buildings, equipment, staff and records – have also been significantly affected by the disaster, and the report stresses the importance of early re-establishment of solid waste management and other essential services.
Three major industrial sites are confirmed to be damaged: Pertamina (oil depot in Krueng/Banda Aceh), Pertamina (oil depot in Meulaboh), and Semen Andalas Indonesia (cement factory in Banda Aceh). Possible contamination, including negative effects to human health and the environment, caused by damage to these and other industrial installations are a matter of serious concern.
Mr. Toepfer said that the findings in the Indonesia report added a sense of urgency to the on-going work by UNEP and its partners in the region.
Specific requests for help have so far come from Indonesia, which has asked UNEP to establish an environmental crisis centre, the Maldives, which has requested emergency waste management assistance and impact studies on coral reefs and livelihoods, and Sri Lanka and Thailand for environmental impact assessments.
UNEP’s own initial assessment report, or “screening”, of the environmental damage, including damage to natural sea defences such as coral reefs and mangrove swamps and chemical and waste installations, is expected next month to coincide with the organisation’s Governing Council taking place in Nairobi.
Welcoming the good progress made at the Kobe meeting, Mr. Toepfer said it was now accepted that environmental issues must be fully integrated in disaster preparation and response. He stressed the importance of tackling the issues at the regional level, particularly in Africa.
He also emphasised the need to also adequately address man-made hazards, such as chemical accidents and oils spills. And, to implement community based approaches to disaster reduction such as UNEP’s Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at the Local Level (APELL) programme.
“The central role of the environment in disaster reduction, whether in early warning systems, or as a factor in reducing risk and vulnerability has been intensively discussed and integrated into the plan of action coming out of Kobe. There is now wide acceptance that environmental degradation and depletion of natural buffers increases risks for, and impacts from, natural and man-made disasters,” Toepfer said. “Now we need action, targets and a firm timetable of implementation.”
Notes to Editors
Indonesia: Preliminary Damage and Loss Assessment was released in Jakarta on 19 January and is available on UNEP’s web site dedicated to the Asian Tsunami disaster. See http://www.unep.org/tsunami/.
Details of the 23rd Session of UNEP’s Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum can be found at http://www.unep.org/gc/gc23/.
For more information please contact: Eric Falt, Spokesman/Director UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail email@example.com; or Robert Bisset, UNEP Press Officer in Kobe on Tel: 090 3466 5423 (until 22 January 2005), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur – Analysis
Date: 25 Jan 2005
One month after tsunami disaster, military still plays key role
By Eric Unmacht
Banda Aceh, Indonesia – One month after the catastrophic Boxing Day tsunami that killed nearly 175,000 people in Indonesia, foreign and national militaries continue to be a major source of relief for many victims in the devastated province of Aceh. The strong, public military presence, however, has not come without headaches for Indonesia’s leaders. “The emergency stage is almost behind us, so militaries will no longer be as effective in contributing,” Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Alwi Shihab was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post on Monday. “Civilians are needed.”
The presence of foreign troops, especially American, on Indonesian soil is a thorny issue for some in nationalistic Indonesia, and particularly in Aceh, a devoutly Moslem province. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of foreign troops remain in the province, providing critical logistic support for the humanitarian mission. Helicopters operating from five aircraft carriers based off the coast of Sumatra are still heavily relied upon to deliver aid, often to remote areas still unreachable by land routes.
The country’s dilemma was highlighted by last week’s testimony of Indonesia’s chief of intelligence to officials at a hearing with the House of Representatives’ commission for defence and intelligence affairs, attended by Defence MinisterJuwono Sudarsono and Indonesian Military (TNI) chief General Endriartono Sutarto.
Syamsir Siregar, the head of the state Intelligence Agency (BIN), singled out the U.S. and Australia in a warning to the state legislature that countries participating in the humanitarian mission might be using the opportunity for spying. “Of course, the United States government has its interests and it will use this opportunity to closely monitor the geographic conditions of Aceh and the Strait of Malacca,” Syamsir Siregar said. “But we should not be extremely suspicious of their presence (in Aceh). We need their practical support to handle the catastrophe aftermath.”
In addition to the continued overwhelming need for assistance, Indonesian leaders have desperately tried to avoid offending their guests and creating any tension that could bring political fallout. What was once called a three-month deadline for foreign troops to leave Aceh was recast by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last week, as he toured the devastated provincial capital of Banda Aceh for the first time, as more of a flexible “timeline” than a deadline.
Yet despite the need for Indonesia to keep their international friends in the province for a while longer, the behind-the-scenes race to get civilian organizations ready to take over completely from militaries continues. “We are opening up isolated areas using land transport, so we don’t need any more helicopters,” Alwi Shihab said.
It’s not just foreign militaries that are giving some Indonesian leaders a headache. The Indonesian military (TNI) has tens of thousands of troops in Aceh to provide security, aid in the humanitarian mission and keep rebels who have been fighting a three-decade-long insurgency at bay.
But despite the Indonesian government having declared an informal ceasefire with the rebels, military officials have independently said that they have killed 208 rebels since the tsunami in over 86 armed clashes across the province. They have also accused rebels of stealing humanitarian aid, although no organizations have reported such attacks. “GAM has continued to disturb security amid the suffering the Acehnese people have been bearing as a consequence of the December 26 natural disaster,” Army Chief of Staff General Ryamizard Ryacudu was quoted as saying by the state-run Antara news agency during a visit to Aceh on Saturday.
GAM is the Indonesian abbreviation for the separatist Free Aceh Movement. “Thus, the hostilities could not be avoided and we had to kill the rebels,” he said, adding that government troops seized a number of rifles after the gunfights. Both the government and GAM rebels have indicated a willingness to restart negotiations aimed at ending the conflict, with initial talks scheduled for Finland later this week.
But analysts say the long-running conflict on the ground could be difficult to quell, and continued tensions between elements of the military and rebels threaten to scuttle any long-term attempts at peace.
The withdrawal of military equipment and personnel by Singapore over the weekend – the first military to do so – and the recent U.S. announcement of plans to scale back its presence in Aceh, suggest that foreign governments may have understood the problem faced by Indonesia’s leaders and may not try to overstay their welcome. But observers say that getting the military, which has enjoyed immense power and autonomy in Aceh over the years, to pull back may prove the more difficult task, despite the need for them to do so.
“The role of the TNI has been essential… but I believe, like in any emergency situation, that it is only normal that operations are gradually handed over to the civilian authority,” Joel Boutroue, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Aceh, told reporters at a press conference. “Of course it is up to the government to decide how that process will be made,” he said.
Source: Agence France-Presse
Date: 26 Jan 2005
Indonesia’s president wants stronger post-tsunami military
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he wants his country to have a stronger and better equipped military to be able to deal with events such as the tsunami disaster.
Indonesia’s armed forces, frequently criticised for human rights abuses despite losing much of the power they once wielded under former dictator Suharto, struggled to cope in the tsunami aftermath, relying on foreign help.
“We are being challenged to build stronger armed forces,” Yudhoyono was quoted as saying by the state Antara news agency.
“If we had a stronger military, we could have done a lot more,” he added.
Foreign military warships and aircraft proved crucial in efforts to bring aid to survivors of the December 26 disaster stranded on remote coastlines, although fiercely independent Indonesia has encouraged them to leave swiftly.
Yudhoyono also said that a military offensive to crush a long-running separatist rebellion in Aceh prior to the disaster could also have been more successful had soldiers been better equipped.
“If our troops had had adequate weaponry, communication equipment and mobility means surely we would have been able to pursue GAM better,” he said, referring to the rebel Free Aceh Movement by their Indonesian acronym.
His statement on the rebels comes at a delicate time as government ministers head to Finland for talks with the separatists aimed at securing a truce to allow humanitarian work in Aceh to continue unhindered.
Yudhoyono said Indonesia must improve capability to produce military equipment to reduce dependency on foreign products.
The United States imposed a military embargo on Indonesia in the wake of alleged human rights violations by its troops in 1999 during an independence vote that saw East Timor gain in dependence from Jakarta.
Although the embargo has been partially lifted to allow the delivery of spare parts for transport planes involved in tsunami relief operations, the US Congress has continued to resist the full normalisation of military ties.
London expressed concerns over the use of British- light tanks by Indonesian forces when they launched an all-out offensive against Aceh’s rebels in 2003. The military later withdrew the tanks.
Yudhoyono said such restrictions would not happen if Indonesia could supply its own military needs.
Source: Channel News Asia
Date: 26 Jan 2005
SCDF doctor says life views changed after Aceh rescue operations
By Tan Bee Leng
SINGAPORE : Following the tsunami disaster, a young medical doctor with the Singapore Civil Defence Force answered the call of duty immediately.
But he says it was not his skills as a doctor that came in useful in Banda Aceh.
As a medical doctor, Dr N Kumar thought he could handle any emergency arising from the disaster.
Yet, he was not prepared for the scenes that greeted him in Banda Aceh.
Instantly, he knew it wasn’t enough just to provide medical aid.
Dr Kumar said: “The thought of only providing medical support lasted for all of two hours. The moment I saw the level of devastation and the kind of conditions the bodies were in, there was no way I was going to let the guys go in alone.”
So he joined the Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) in locating and extricating dead bodies.
Dr Kumar said: “There was no glory attached to pulling out bodies, but it was work that needed to be done…when you are there and you see someone crying over the bodies and you help them pull it out, it gives them a sense of closure. They know that at least my loved are pulled out, and they are being buried. They don’t have to keep looking at the bodies decomposing in the rubble.”
During his 10-day stint, Dr Kumar developed strong emotional attachments to the people of Aceh.
And it wasn’t relief that he felt when orders came for him to return home, it was reluctance.
Dr Kumar said: “When you see a house that’s collapsed, and you see a kid wandering around, and when you talk to her and you find out she has lost her parents, she’s lost her brother, she’s got no one and the reason she’s walking around the house is because she’s got nowhere else to go, that kind of strikes a chord in you and you wanna help, you just wanna stay.
“I was very disappointed and very sad that I had to leave, when I felt I could contribute so much more, but I’m glad I got a chance to go and that kind of tampered the regret and the sadness that I had to leave Aceh.”
And all it took was a handshake and a “thank you” from the natives to make all the hardwork worthwhile.
Dr Kumar said: “I value that heartfelt thanks alot more than souvenirs or official letters of thank you. You know, just spontaneous gratitude from the people, that was very moving for me.”
The tsunami did not just change the lives of those Dr Kumar helped, it changed his own life as well.
He said he had stopped taking things for granted, and now appreciates family much more than he used to.
Source: Joyo Indonesia News
Date: 26 Jan 2005
Critics See Potential For Indonesian Tsunami Aid Theft
JAKARTA, Jan. 25 (AP) – International financial institutions paid about $35 million in the late 1980s to build the highway that meanders from Jakarta’s international airport to the city, crossing picturesque rice paddies and fishponds.
But the 1.2-meter thick layer of crushed stone that was supposed to keep the pavement above flood level was never laid and the project became known as the “highway heist” – a glaring reminder of the corruption here that donors must overcome in aiding areas shattered by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami.
With hundreds of millions of dollars pledged as relief aid, many fear that corrupt officials in Indonesia will devour a portion of the humanitarian funds.
Thousands of relief workers – from the U.S. Navy and Marines to U.N. agencies and private organizations – rushed to deliver food and water and establish temporary shelters for hundreds of thousands of survivors along the battered coasts of Sumatra island. As the mission becomes one of rebuilding rather than emergency aid, observers say the conditions for corruption are rife.
“Based on our past experience in other disasters in Indonesia, corruption is highest in the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase, rather than during the emergency response,” said Luky Djani, from the independent watchdog Indonesia Corruption Watch. “We want to focus our monitoring efforts on reconstruction and rehabilitation because in these two stages corruption will be rampant.
“Indonesia’s media has taken the lead in warning of the potential pitfalls.”
It is well known that the government’s credibility is very low in preventing and eradicating corruption,” an editorial in The Jakarta Post said. “This has raised doubts as to whether the government will be able to handle public money from all over the world in a transparent manner.“
Newly elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has moved quickly to pre-empt the potential crisis by appointing international accounting agency Ernst &Young to track the relief funds. He also has pledged to work with donor countries to ensure that aid for tsunami victims is not stolen by corrupt officials.
“There will be no corruption,” said Alwi Shihab, the senior welfare minister who is in charge of the relief effort. To bolster the promise, he said the government would publish a monthly list of all aid “contributions and where it is going to avoid any suspicion.”
The government has estimated that rebuilding efforts in the most devastated area, Aceh province, will cost at least US$4 billion. The earthquake and wave flattened wide swaths of Indonesia’s Sumatra island, killing tens of thousands and sweeping whole villages into the sea. Some towns will have to be rebuilt from scratch.
Yudhoyono’s administration has said that most foreign governments that have pledged aid are insisting that they be allowed to manage the funds.
The Cabinet was drawing up plans for the use of aid in the reconstruction and rehabilitation phases that would guarantee the donations are channeled to tsunami victims, said Sri Mulyani Indrawati, minister for national development planning.
This would include the creation of a new management structure, where donors could track the progress of projects they are financing and the way their money is being used.
Staffan Synnerstrom, a senior official of the Asian Development Bank, insisted that outside lenders were determined “to make arrangements that would minimize this risk.”
However, administrators who have seen corruption in the past warn that the new safeguards don’t go far enough. Kwik Gian Gie, economic minister in the former administration of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, predicted that on building or infrastructure projects, it was “safe to assume a 40% markup.”
Indonesia is listed as one of the world’s most corrupt nations by Transparency International in its latest Corruption Perceptions Index.
Since his inauguration three months ago, Yudhoyono has publicly lamented that corruption has become “systemic” in the country.
Many Indonesians feel the corruption and its resulting abuse of power threatens the survival of the country’s fledgling democracy and could usher in another period of military rule. A U.S.-backed army general, Suharto, ruled Indonesia with an iron hand for 32 years before pro-democracy protests and riots forced him to step down in 1998.
During his reign, Suharto, his family and his military and business cronies are alleged to have plundered at least US$30 billion. Suharto was charged in 2000 with embezzling the equivalent of more than $600 million from a number of foundations run by his family. The charges were eventually dropped when judges ruled he was too ill to stand trial.
Aceh has long been regarded as Indonesia’s most graft-ridden province. It is home to a long-running separatist war in which about 15,000 people have died in the past decade. Power in the province is largely in the hands of the military, widely regarded as one of the country’s most corrupt institutions.
The province is extremely rich in natural resources – the liquefied gas industry alone, which supplies much of Japan’s and South Korea’s needs, brings in about US$5 billion annually.
Critics warn that as efforts to rebuild the shattered infrastructure get under way, it will be difficult to keep contractors with ties to the army brass and top bureaucrats from padding their bids or claiming to have performed non existent tasks.
Source: Washington Post – Foreign Service
Date: 27 Jan 2005
Foreign Assistance Draws Few Complaints in Aceh
Indonesia’s Tsunami Effort Criticized
By Alan Sipress
LHOKNGA, Indonesia — Ali, a scruffy Acehnese truck driver turned tsunami refugee, said he wasn’t sure who provided him with a sack of rice, bottled water, a blanket and a few other meager provisions, just that they were foreigners.
Brushing aside flies, he knelt in a corner of his tent and pointed to the sky when asked where the supplies had come from. One item was a silver packet labeled “Shortbread” in English. Another larger brown package was stamped “Red Beans and Rice.” They appeared to be U.S. military food rations.
“The foreigners are the only ones who gave us anything. We haven’t gotten anything from the Indonesian government,” said Ali, 43, a sad-eyed man with curly hair and a scraggly beard. “If the foreign soldiers leave Aceh, the Acehnese people will starve to death.”
A heated debate over how long U.S. and other foreign troops should be allowed to remain in Indonesia has been dominated by political and military leaders based in Jakarta, the capital.
The country’s welfare minister, for example, told reporters Sunday that it was “only logical” that foreign forces begin pulling out. “The emergency phase is almost behind us, so the military will no longer give their contribution,” said Alwi Shihab, referring to U.S., Singaporean and other foreign troops.
But in more than two dozen interviews in Aceh, Indonesia’s westernmost province, residents unanimously said that foreign forces should remain for at least several years. Acehnese, from homeless rice farmers to professors and local officials, said the troops should help with reconstruction and serve as a check on Indonesian security forces, widely feared in the province because of their heavy-handed campaign against separatist rebels, known as the Free Aceh Movement. The rebels have been fighting for autonomy for decades.
The desire of many Acehnese that the foreign forces stay reflects frustration with domestic relief efforts but also an alienation from Indonesia born of 29 years of civil war.
The tsunami that crashed into 11 Indian Ocean countries on Dec. 26, killing an estimated 150,000 people, triggered an unprecedented international relief campaign. At least 12 countries, including the United States, provided military support operations, and about 100 U.N. agencies and private humanitarian groups rushed to the stricken area. But many Indonesian officials, party activists and senior military officers have demanded that U.S. and other foreign troops depart within weeks.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla, airing the nationalist sentiments of many Indonesians, called on the foreigners to leave by March 26. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, however, has softened the deadline, saying that some foreign military expertise and equipment might be needed beyond that date.
Adm. Thomas Fargo, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said recently that military forces involved in providing relief to countries struck by the tsunami were already beginning to withdraw and could be gone entirely by late March. The U.S. military has deployed about 8,000 troops in and around Indonesia, mostly on ships off the coast.
Acehnese have been cautious in public about the foreign presence. The government’s battle with the Free Aceh Movement has left the local population cowed, fearing interrogation, detention or even summary execution by one side or the other for voicing offending views.
As Ali and his wife shared their impatience over Indonesian relief efforts, they kept watch through the opening of the tent, lowering their voices whenever Indonesian army trucks, crowded with soldiers in green camouflage uniforms cradling automatic rifles, rumbled past. U.S. Navy Sea Hawk helicopters roared overhead every few minutes, heading down the west coast to deliver aid.
“If it’s possible, the foreign troops should stay here 50 years,” Ali continued, almost pleading. He and other refugees said they feared being identified by the army and requested that they not be photographed or further identified. “If the international troops don’t stay here for a long time, there will be corruption, and none of the assistance will get into our hands.”
Sitting on a blue tarp in a plaid sarong and swatting flies with his folded yellow hat, Ali complained that Indonesian soldiers were hoarding foreign assistance and had confiscated one of the tents that a U.S. helicopter had delivered to the relief camp he shares with about 35 others. Another refugee, Syaiful, 19, a high school student with floppy bangs, poked his head into the tent and seconded Ali’s complaint, alleging that Indonesian soldiers had yanked a sack of rice out of his hands.
Acehnese in interviews repeatedly accused Indonesian soldiers of stealing foreign aid but said they feared reprisals if they reported the practice to authorities.
Ali said friends had been tortured by soldiers, and that he had been beaten at a police checkpoint by soldiers demanding a bribe.
“We’ve been praying to God that the government will withdraw the military from our place,” he said with a scowl, thick furrows gathering above his eyes. “Under the supervision of foreign troops, we’ll be free to move. Our farmers will be able to go into the fields and plant rice, and our fishermen will be able to fish. But if the Indonesian military is in charge, they stop us and point their guns at us.”
Human rights groups have accused Indonesian security forces in recent years of committing abuses against Acehnese civilians in the course of fighting the insurgency. The Indonesian government has dismissed these charges, saying they target only the rebels.
The Indonesian government has also rejected allegations that soldiers are stealing assistance. Officials said tens of thousands of soldiers have been involved in clearing streets of corpses and delivering humanitarian assistance to refugees in Aceh. If relief aid did not arrive sooner, officials have said, it was because of a shortage of military equipment, in particular transport planes.
Isma, 23, a rail-thin woman dressed in a blue sweat suit, disagreed. “The international soldiers and aid workers help us sincerely. The Indonesian soldiers do not,” she said.
“I hope the international soldiers stay here for a long time,” Isma said as she hung laundry on a clothesline outside an abandoned house near her camp. “They can help the Acehnese people wake up from this nightmare. They can help develop Aceh and prevent war here so we can live in peace.”
Hussein, 20, a bare-chested man in black trousers who had been drying cloves on a sheet in front of the house, walked over to join the conversation. He said he preferred the presence of foreign troops to government intervention.
“If the foreign groups and soldiers had not come, Aceh would still be dead,” said the jobless laborer. “The government set the deadline for international soldiers to leave Aceh because they don’t want the world to know the truth of what is happening.”
Before the tsunami struck, Indonesia had restricted the access of foreign humanitarian workers and journalists to the province on grounds that they could be targeted by the rebels. Human rights groups and some foreign diplomats said the measures were meant to cover up abuses by the security forces.
Hussein said the government’s greatest fear was that the world would learn that most Acehnese want to be independent. He also said he hoped the foreign presence would push peace negotiations between the government and the rebels.
But he said disaster relief was the immediate concern. “We can’t allow the international soldiers to leave and let us starve,” he said.
Special correspondent Yayu Yuniar contributed to this report.
Date: 27 Jan 2005
Refugees paid bribes for lift on NZ Hercules
By Jarrod Booker
Refugees flown by the Royal New Zealand Air Force from tsunami-ravaged Aceh to Jakarta bribed Indonesian soldiers to get on board, a respected international news magazine has reported.
An article in the American Newsweek publication claimed the New Zealand military had become caught up in “rampant profiteering” in the wake of the disaster that killed more than 150,000 people.
“On a New Zealand military cargo flight from Aceh to Jakarta last week, about half of the `refugees’ being carried out were well-dressed people who paid up to $80 to Indonesian military screeners to be allowed on the plane,” the article said.
The article catalogues a litany of corruption in the province including:
A deteriorating security situation that includes looters, corpse scavengers, child kidnappers, radical Islamic groups and paramilitary youth gangs.
Uncertainty about the Indonesian army reaction to continuing aid efforts. Before the Tsunami hit commanders ran business empires, oversaw smuggling, illegal logging, protection rackets and extortion in the region.
The Free Aceh movement exporting drugs, kidnapping for ransom and taxing villages.
Looting becoming a common sport for uniformed personnel in Aceh and black market trading rampant.
Indonesia is one of the 20 most corrupt countries in the world, according to last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Foreign Minister Phil Goff said last night the New Zealand operation was acting in good faith.
“We’ve got no information about the accusations other than that the people who we have been flying out have been referred to us by the Indonesian authorities,” Goff said.
“Obviously, our basis for this sort of evacuation would be on need. We’ve been given no evidence to the contrary that the need for evacuation has been subordinated by the ability to pay.”
New Zealand Defence Force spokeswoman Commander Sandy McKie said the reports of people buying places on a New Zealand Hercules aircraft were unconfirmed.
“We are not going to investigate it. It is anecdotal evidence,” McKie said.
She said the Hercules aircraft only took displaced Indonesians on board if there was room after flying vital food, equipment and personnel from Jakarta to Aceh.
Any “displaced people” taken on the flights to Jakarta were sorted by the Indonesian authorities. About 300 had been transported to date.
“We have no say or control in who these people are,” McKie said.
“Some have been reasonably well-dressed but nothing that stands out. Of course, they are still displaced people and have the same right to travel.”
Press reporter Dave Courtney flew on a Hercules from Aceh with displaced people and said hundreds wanted to get on the flights out.
Those on his flight were dressed as well as any other residents on the streets of Aceh, Courtney said.
Any money paid for flights would have changed hands out of view of the New Zealanders, he said.
New Zealand First MP Ron Mark and Green Party foreign affairs spokesman Keith Locke have both called for the New Zealand Government to take the matter up with the Indonesian Government.
Mark said the reported incidents showed the need for the Government to be wary of how it devoted its humanitarian resources.
“A wise government would not think with its heart. That may sound harsh but, if we want to do the best for an impoverished nation, we have to keep firm control over how our resources are being used. The Australian government has showed how it should be done.”
The New Zealand Government should have been well aware of what to expect by sending Kiwi military to Indonesia, Mark said.
“You can’t ignore the history of certain countries. Some countries have a culture of corruption.”
Locke said it was important that New Zealand was not complicit in corrupt practices. It was well known the Indonesian military was corrupt.
Locke said he wanted to see claims of bribery taken up with the Indonesian Government at the highest level.
Source: Australian Financial Review
Date: 27 Jan 2005
Indonesia Extends Ban on Leading Terror Expert
By Andrew Burrell
Jakarta – The democratic credentials of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have been called into question by his government’s decision to extend a ban on leading terrorism expert Sidney Jones.
When Ms Jones was expelled from Indonesia last June by the government of former leader Megawati Soekarnoputri, it was widely hoped that she would be allowed to return should Mr Yudhoyono become president.
Mr Yudhoyono, a retired general, came to power in October after campaigning strongly on a pro-reform agenda, and he has spoken out in support of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
However, Ms Jones, the South-East Asia director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, has since been denied a visa by the new government and is working from Singapore.
Mr Yudhoyono’s close ally, State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Syamsir Siregar, told a parliamentary hearing last week that the government would uphold the ban on Ms Jones returning to Indonesia.
Ms Jones, a US citizen, was a frequent critic of Indonesia’s security policies as part of her ground-breaking work on regional terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah.
Her reports on Indonesia’s sensitive separatist conflicts in Aceh and Papua are believed to have prompted the original move to expel her.
The tsunami disaster in Aceh last month has sparked greater international scrutiny of the Indonesian military’s actions in the troubled province.
This has concerned many in the Jakarta elite who are keen for the heavy foreign presence in Aceh to be scaled down quickly.
Mr Siregar, a former general who has known Mr Yudhoyono for 30 years, told the parliamentary hearing that several cabinet ministers had urged him to allow to return to the country.
But he had refused because it could “create a problem” and he did not want to take that risk.
He did not expand on the reasons behind the decision.
His predecessor as BIN chief, AM Hendopriyono, had also refused to give reasons at the time for the expulsion of Ms Jones and her Australian researcher, Francesca Lawe-Davies.
Mr Yudhoyono was quoted as saying at the time that the Megawati government should “explain clearly to the local and international community” the reasons for the expulsion.
The Indonesian chairman of the ICG, human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, said yesterday he still hoped the Yudhoyono government would allow Ms Jones to return.
“We are still trying to work something out with the manpower minister and BIN, but so far there is no resolution,” he said.
“I am not giving up yet.”
Mr Lubis said he believed that Mr Yudhoyono was personally “very open” but some members of his cabinet did not share his views.
Source: US Network
Date: 28 Jan 2005
Death, Lies and ‘Humanitarian Aid’
By Matthew N. Davies
An Analysis on TNI Post-Disaster Information Operations (‘Public Affairs’). Davies is an author and former Australian Department of Defense intelligence analyst regarding TNI’s largely successful public relations exercise for international observers.
Perception is everything in warfare of the Communications Age. So too with an army’s humanitarian relief operations. Has Indonesia’s controversial military ‘come of age’ among the World’s many civilian and military aid teams in devastated Aceh?
In the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, Indonesia’s military (TNI) staged a canny – and largely successful – public relations exercise for international observers. But the TNI’s own official record of its effort paints a very different picture than that presented to a world shocked by the massive disaster.
Against ongoing allegations of brutal reprisal and other atrocity in its 30-year anti-guerrilla war in Indonesia’s Aceh Province, the TNI said much to claim that it really cared for Aceh’s civilians in their time of greatest trauma and need. Indonesia had a chance to show it could now try to keep resource-rich Aceh through humanitarian compassion rather than by force of arms.
The TNI strategy found a receptive foreign audience, including the commander of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) relief contingent Brigadier Chalmers. Shortly after his arrival in the debris of the provincial capital Banda Aceh, Chalmers praised the TNI for what he claimed was its rapid, dedicated and professional response.
Evidence of TNI relief efforts, it was widely hoped, could help defuse long-standing enmities in the bitter blood feud running several generations between Aceh and Jakarta. In that spirit, ADF Chief General Cosgrove saw the tsunami crisis as a potential “circuit breaker” in the protracted separatist war.
Some early reports challenged the TNI’s publicity campaign. Critics alerted observers to reports of deliberate TNI stockpiling of emergency aid supplies, opportunistic mark-ups in refugee numbers, discriminatory release of aid and later, reports of a TNI aid distribution post selling donated food to desperate, starving Acehnese refugees.
But these were still logistical matters in a country notorious for corrupt and informal government revenue-raising. With the TNI in charge, it was hard to prove the substance of these disturbing reports. Were such practices so widespread as to be the norm? Was one TNI soldier’s merchandising of aid at one post the standard procedure, or wayward opportunism by a TNI ‘rogue element’?
Anyway, the TV cameras clearly showed some TNI troops doing the grisly and dirty task of gathering corpses and clearing debris. A later showpiece came from an Australian TV crew, filming a few TNI soldiers scrubbing away at a Banda Aceh school as if in routine cleanup at their home barracks. Aid was getting there, and if it was still too slow well, bureaucratic bloody-mindedness over quarantine, overlaps among Indonesian Government agencies, and devastation to an already delicate infrastructure could also explain away that problem.
But the TNI stayed in charge, and the TNI held the most weapons and political power to keep calling the shots in Aceh. From late December to 9 January, TNI generals and public relations officers made inconsistent assurances to the public that they would task “half”, “two thirds” or “all of their forces” in Aceh to the humanitarian operation (later TNI quotes set the figure at 12,000, then 14,000).
All these claims sounded promising, because the many deployed TNI troops were based almost entirely among Aceh’s population centres, best positioned to help run the medicine, food and reconstruction for the Province’s destroyed coastal lowlands. Under the gaze of international attention, hundreds of nearby troops from neighboring North Sumatera Province flew in specially to Banda Aceh’s destruction.
But on closer examination, reports by the TNI itself showed that its ‘humanitarian commitment’ was minimal, primarily aimed towards Indonesian and western public opinion and not, as its chief executives and PR claimed, to any genuine humanitarian relief in Aceh. The TNI’s own detailed and formatted report of 8 January listed just over four battalions of soldiers officially tasked with humanitarian work.
That official TNI humanitarian effort compared to some forty combat battalions of TNI troops deployed in Aceh. If counting the TNI’s yet larger (and officially admitted) troop strength in Aceh, their troops’ sum humanitarian effort was even more modest: barely 2,000 troops from a total 40,000, or as little as just five per cent of all TNI soldiers there, before counting their own tsunami losses running to two thousand, or even higher.
And these were extra troops sent in after the disaster, not part of the large TNI Aceh force already in place beforehand. Under the heading “Force Strengths Involved in Humanitarian Aid”, the TNI report listed one infantry, one air defence, and two lower-strength construction battalions, along with a couple of separate companies, platoons and teams. Actual medical and health staff totaled 115 people.
Mostly flown in from Medan, North Sumatera, almost the entire TNI “humanitarian force” concentrated in Banda Aceh alongside an influx by foreign military personnel, international relief agencies and, most significantly, news media. Amid unprecedented foreign praise, and massive material and financial aid now entrusted to Jakarta, its own strict and itemized reports in military format gave a reality countering its public relations ‘line’. It was the TNI itself that revealed its actually miniscule, token humanitarian effort.
Thus in a bizarre twist, the TNI directed its humanitarian effort mainly at the throngs of international media and aid workers gathering in shattered Banda Aceh. The TNI’s long-term program of fortified posts, patrol routes and free-fire zones in Aceh had now added a new element: an enclave of post-tsunami compassion; welfare troops on show to the cameras in the Capital’s wreckage. The TNI’s camouflaged ‘relief effort’ amounted to little more than a topsy-turvy, modern-day ‘Petrushka-ville’.
By 12 January, the TNI’s PR staff had removed these reports from their official web site, including from its store of reports on Aceh and elsewhere going back years. Obviously someone in TNI headquarters had detected the extraordinary publicity risk of such official self-contradiction, and sought drastic remedy for the error in perception management. Before a few more intrepid aid volunteers got clearance into the devastated western coast, the TNI had posted a similarly small proportion of its official humanitarian troops in advance.
Those informative TNI post-disaster reports, so briefly available to the public, appeared beside other detailed records contradicting the generals’ broader message of a military now caring for a people hitherto subjected to its widespread arbitrary detentions, interrogations, ‘disappearances’, and savage atrocities in reprisal for separatist ambushes, raids and sniping.
By 24 January, the TNI again detailed some of its claimed humanitarian effort: three battalions, or just under 2,000 troops, in the wrecked Meulaboh area. With the exception of about one hundred soldiers relocating refugees, the TNI’s entire claimed “humanitarian aid” for the western area comprised units tasked with “security” in escorting foreign military and civilian aid workers.
Even among those units officially on a “humanitarian aid” mission, most kept watch over foreigners moving about those areas where foreign aid posts concentrated in Banda Aceh and later in Meulaboh in the Province’s west. Most of the TNI’s remaining portion of “humanitarian” troops worked to restore damaged bridges and roads in tasks essential to maintain logistics for offensive military operations.
Ongoing Anti-Guerrilla Warfare
The situation was clearer still among the heavier troop concentrations along the northern and eastern coasts. The TNI’s less detailed public statements claimed that its combat battalions already in Aceh were equally preoccupied with humanitarian emergency. But these units merely continued on their role in relocation and population surveillance duties done since Jakarta’s Aceh campaign started in May 2003. That earlier pattern of forced evacuations and free-fire zones changed to shifting some refugees into camps under close TNI watch. This activity aimed to ‘filter’ the population for alleged members and relatives of the Acehnese resistance army GAM.
Moreover, despite widespread claims of an “unofficial ceasefire”, the TNI’s offensive military operations were to officially continue after the disaster. >From Jakarta, both Indonesia’s president and the TNI’s chief executive could claim their campaign was on hold in the tsunami’s wake. In Aceh’s headquarters however, the TNI’s PR officers released statements to the opposite effect: operations were still on. Patrols merely became more localized as the TNI regrouped to cover its own losses from the disaster.
While the tsunami passed into a series of lighter, but still terrifying tremors, TNI headquarters in Aceh reported its forces fighting GAM much as it had before the catastrophe. The difference now was that the TNI couched its post-combat and arrest reports in indignant accusations that GAM was deliberately terrorizing refugees and other civilians in the tsunami’s wake. There was no mention at all of the GAM military command’s 27 December declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.
TNI reports gave little supporting substance to their predictable accusations against GAM as a heartless criminal band “taking advantage of the disaster”, oblivious to the welfare of its own fellow Acehnese people. According to the TNI, GAM now threatened aid convoys from Medan. But TNI combat reports specified offensive military action against alleged GAM members in townships up to 30 kilometres from the supply route. Meanwhile, aid convoy drivers reported the continued TNI extraction of fees all along Aceh’s northern highway from Medan.
The TNI held supreme control over movements in and out of the Province. Most importantly, Indonesia’s military controlled the material aid into Aceh from Medan. Upon clearance by the TNI, foreign military and aid organizations could distribute supplies and conduct medical relief, but in the larger scheme, the tsunami became the TNI’s boom time. And amid concerns about their own security, the foreigners chose to avoid antagonizing their host “protectors” by addressing such matters.
A military adage holds: “Amateurs think tactics, professionals think logistics”. In that sense, the TNI may seem “professional” by its tight logistical control of foreign aid and access for disaster relief in Aceh. The flow of material for the disaster may yet sustain the Indonesian military’s expensive operations in Aceh for years to come. This new situation which helps to explain Jakarta’s willingness to enter Helsinki peace negotiations – from a position of strength – with GAM’s leadership.
But perhaps the old adage needs an update to: “Militarist politicians think perception management”. In this sense, compliant and uncritical foreign politicians, military, NGO and media have all helped justify an Indonesian military response to Acehnese demands for independence.
How many more vulnerable people died as a result of this military-led ersatz humanitarianism? With their own budgets and public confidence at stake, we should not expect our governments, NGOs or the UN to make any serious investigation of that question.
Meanwhile, the TNI has continued to make public much detailed official information bluntly contradicting its leaders’ rhetoric, as if daring the World: “What are you going to do about it?”