Jakarta (Fides Service) – “Widespread violence terrorises civilians. The situation appears worse than in East Timor. The attack was planned and no one was able to stop it. Many civilians have been killed, schools torched, thousands are fleeing their homes”. This was reported to Fides Service by a local Church source in Aceh who asked to remain anonymous. This is the third week of fighting in Aceh (Northern Sumatra) between the regular army and the Free Aceh Movement (Gam). The local source continues: “Intellectuals, human rights workers, religious leaders warned that in the case of an attack the civilian population would suffer the worst consequences. Today this is tragically happening; local humanitarian structures, inadequate in means and men, are unable to cope, and the central government will not allow other humanitarian bodies into Aceh.”
Two weeks since the outbreak of violence (19 May), in the far north of Sumatra some 40,000 government soldiers are fighting about 5,000 Gam rebels. The government, which assigned 143 million dollars for the operation, recently affirmed: “the attack continues with success”.
Meanwhile the Indonesian Red Cross has denounced a humanitarian crisis, the people lack food and medicine. Already 23,000 people have been displaced and it is estimated that altogether one and a half million people living in the war zones are in danger.
In Aceh there is also concern for the scholastic year of some 40,000 school pupils after 400 schools were torched and the incident happened on the day of annual exams. Rebels and army accuse each other of destroying the schools.
Sidney Jones, director of the study centre International Crisis Group in Brussels, has strongly criticised the Jakarta government’s refusal to let other humanitarian bodies into Aceh to assist the civilian population.
Reports of violation of human rights and summary executions on the part of the Indonesian army continue. The Indonesian National Commission for Human Rights has decided to send observers to Aceh to investigate, while in Jakarta the offices of Kontras human rights organisation, which openly opposed the conflict, was sacked by a group of extremists.
In the meantime the National Moral Movement, a forum of leaders of different religions, has issued an appeal calling for an end to the hostilities in Aceh and a peaceful solution to the conflict in the martyred region of northern Sumatra. The religious leaders, the same pro-peace group which travelled to Rome for an audience with Pope John Paul II in March this year, underline that “the peopel of Aceh love their homeland and that all they want is for the government to guarantee justice and prosperity”. Among those who signed the appeal, Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja, Archbishop of Jakarta, representing the local Catholic Church; Hasyim Musadi, chairman of the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia Nahdlatul Ulama; Yewangoe Protestant Pastor and Nurcholish Madjid, a Muslim intellectual.
In their appeal the religious leaders affirm that the Aceh question involves all Indonesians because the collapse of peace threatens the unity of the Republic of Indonesia. They ask why the people of Aceh has to shed its blood in the struggle to free themselves of injustice inflicted by their own country. “We believe that Indonesia must solve the question of Aceh without the use of force. Everyone must work together so that peace and unity may prevail. We do not consider secession for Aceh to be the right solution. We expect the government to take into account the people’s legitimate demand for justice, because for 25 years the people of Aceh have suffered a situation of war.” PA (Fides Service 2/6/2003 EM lines 47 Words: 620)