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A woman stands among the charred remains of her home in Desa Juli, Acheh province, on March 6, 2001. The village was set ablaze twice in 14 months by the Indonesian military, which hoped to root out rebels.

 

Quake, tsunami just latest blows

 

Close-up

 
Jan 10, 2005, the Seattle Times —— Two weeks ago, Acheh was a place few could properly pronounce, let alone pick out on the map. Today, the westernmost province in the sprawling Indonesian archipelago has become a household name, "ground zero" for one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern history.
 

 

By Jacqueline Koch

 
 

 

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'Thousands more have disappeared in a string of military campaigns since 1989. Most of the victims are civilians, caught in the cross-fire between Indonesian troops and separatist rebels.'

 

 

 

 

 

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STORY IN PICTURE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'Acheh is rich, but the people are poor, ... Many Achenese have long complained that the central government has drained away the province's riches without investing in local development.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ore than 104,000 Achenese are believed to have died in the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami. More than 400,000 homeless are expected to need shelter in refugee camps, and 1,550 villages have been wiped out. The Indonesian government predicts it will take up to a decade for Acheh to recover.

But the troubles facing this remote region are not the work of Mother Nature alone. Acheh was awash in violence, poverty and tragedy long before the tsunami swept over its shores.

The province has been engulfed in what is often described as one of Southeast Asia's longest-running and most-brutal conflicts. At least 15,000 people have died and thousands more have disappeared in a string of military campaigns since 1989. Most of the victims are civilians, caught in the cross-fire between Indonesian troops and separatist rebels of the Free Acheh Movement, known as GAM.

The latest chapter in this conflict began in May 2003, when the government abandoned a peace accord and imposed martial law. More than 40,000 troops were dispatched to Acheh to crush GAM. At the onset, Indonesia's generals predicted the anti-insurgency campaign would wipe out an estimated 5,000 rebels in five months. But 19 months later, combat operations drag on.

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Indonesian atrocities

 

 

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Refugees reveal widespread abuses

 

 

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Indonesia secrete war, cont'd

 

 

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Life under martial law

 

 

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War on separatists leaves Acheh in turmoil

 

 

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We fight on, say GAM

 

 

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From repression to resistance

 

 

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"Acheh has been in a state of misery for years and years and years," said Daniel Lev, University of Washington political-science professor emeritus and Southeast Asian expert.

The world, though, knew little about the conflict in Acheh. When the Indonesian government declared martial law, it also imposed a virtual media blackout and ousted international relief groups providing aid to refugees displaced by the violence.

"Before the disaster hit, Acheh was the most closed and inaccessible part of Indonesia," says Sidney Jones, director of the Southeast Asia Project for the International Crisis Group.

"Acheh has already suffered so much," said Hendra Budiansyah, 24, who fled political persecution in Acheh in 2001 to find asylum in the United States.

His mother, a well-known pro-independence activist imprisoned for her political activities, is among the countless who have perished. "She was locked in her cell when the earthquake struck," Budiansyah said. A dark, churning wall of water followed, flattening the prison completely and entombing it in mud.

Budiansyah hopes his mother's body might be found for a proper burial. Meanwhile, he is trying to track down surviving family and friends.

Some aid workers worry that relief efforts will be hampered by a legacy of government neglect and corruption, and a dismal infrastructure.

The road network is limited, the electric grid fragile and unreliable, and clean-water supplies are scarce.

"No one bothered to prepare for this kind of disaster," said Lev. "The people of Acheh are paying the price for that."

Acheh is home to 4.2 million people. In a country that is home to the world's largest Muslim population, Acheh, known as the "Porch of Mecca," is considered among the most devoutly Muslim areas. The once-prosperous sultanate was the historic departure point for pilgrims heading to Mecca.

While the Dutch easily colonized the rest of Indonesia beginning in the 17th century, the Achenese fiercely resisted, losing up to a fifth of their population. During World War II, Acheh joined the rest of Indonesia's struggle for independence from the Japanese Imperial Army and later the Dutch. Acheh was incorporated into the new Indonesian republic born in 1949.

Ten years later, Indonesia granted the province a "special territory" status that included autonomy in some matters.

The province is strategically perched along shipping lanes of the Straits of Malacca. Most importantly, Jakarta relies heavily on Aceh's considerable resources: natural gas, oil and timber. In 1998, the Arun gas field alone produced $200 billion in liquefied natural gas (LNG).

"Acheh can live without Indonesia, but Indonesia cannot live without Acheh," Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an adviser to former President B.J. Habibie, once told reporters.

"Acheh is rich, but the people are poor," a common grievance heard there, is at the core of Aceh's differences with Jakarta. Many Achenese have long complained that the central government has drained away the province's riches without investing in local development.

GAM, whose leadership is now based in Sweden, launched its struggle for independence in 1976. In 1989, then-dictator Suharto placed Acheh under complete military control in an intensive counter-insurgency campaign.

When student protests brought Suharto's tenure to an end in 1998, the Achenese were finally free to speak out against a decade of atrocities: institutionalized "torture houses," mass graves, disappearances and extra-judicial executions of suspected rebels and sympathizers.

And Aceh's demands for independence grew louder. To quell calls for freedom, the government negotiated its first cease-fire with GAM rebels in 2000 and offered Acheh "special autonomy," granting the province a greater share of revenue from local resources.

While the government apologized for human-rights abuses under Suharto, it never held military leaders accountable.

Despite peace talks, the violence has continued. In recent years, activists have disappeared, students have been beaten and detained, and humanitarian workers were intimidated as they delivered aid. Villages suspected of harboring rebels were torched.

GAM also stepped up its campaign, recruiting fighters and extorting villagers and businesses to fund its operations. In 2003, rebels kidnapped and detained a pair of journalists. One was killed in a cross-fire between troops and rebels, while the other was released 11 months after his abduction.

The Indonesian government has portrayed GAM as Islamic extremists.

But Jones said the separatist movement has no fundamentalist agenda. "There was no act of terrorism in Acheh; this was not an insurgency that had any links to the jihadist movement," she said.

Now that the fury of Mother Nature has heaved Acheh back into the international spotlight, there are both hopes for peace and fears that violence will escalate.

Jones worries that the Indonesian army will continue to pursue its own interests in the region and that GAM may also use the disaster as an opportunity to recruit supporters.

On the other hand, she sees some positive developments. The disaster-relief effort also ushered in the first U.S.-Indonesian military cooperation in years, after a military embargo against Indonesia for atrocities in East Timor. She believes pressure from donors operating in Acheh might prompt the military leadership to scale back operations.

However, graft remains a primary concern, since she and other experts say Acheh has one of the most corrupt administrations in Indonesia.

"Donors have to demand very, very strict auditing so that the money goes where it was intended to go," Jones said.

Jacqueline Koch is a Whidbey Island freelance photographer and writer. She has spent considerable time in Indonesia and has made four reporting trips to Acheh since 2000. Statistics on the dead and homeless were provided by The Associated Press.

 

 

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Agencies Accepting Aid Dollars for Tsunami Victims
The following are some of the agencies accepting contributions for aid to people affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Asia.

ACTION AGAINST HUNGER
247 West 37th Street, Suite 1201
New York, N.Y. 10018
212-967-7800 x108
www.actionagainsthunger.org

AMERICAN JEWISH WORLD SERVICE
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor

New York, N.Y. 10018
800-889-7146
www.ajws.org

AMERICAN FRIENDS SERVICE COMMITTEE
AFSC Crisis Fund
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, Pa. 19102
215-241-7000
www.afsc.org

AMERICAN RED CROSS
International Response Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, D.C. 20013
800-HELP NOW
www.redcross.org

CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES
Tsunami Emergency
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, Md. 21203-7090
800-736-3467
www.catholicrelief.org

DIRECT RELIEF INTERNATIONAL
27 South La Patera Lane
Santa Barbara, Calif. 93117
805-964-4767
www.directrelief.org

DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS
P.O. Box 1856
Merrifield, Va. 22116-8056
888-392-0392
www.doctorswithoutborders.org

INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL CORPS
Earthquake/Tsunami Relief
1919 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 300
Santa Monica, Calif. 90404
800-481-4462
www.imcworldwide.org

AMERICAN JEWISH JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE
South Asia Tsunami Relief
Box 321
847A Second Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10017
212-687-6200 ext. 851
www.jdc.org

MERCY CORPS
Southeast Asia Earthquake Response
Dept. W
P.O. Box 2669
Portland, Ore. 97208
800-852-2100
www.mercycorps.org

OPERATION USA
8320 Melrose Avenue, Suite 200
Los Angles, Calif. 90069
800-678-7255
www.opusa.org

SAVE THE CHILDREN
Asia Earthquake/Tidal Wave Relief Fund
54 Wilton Road
Westport, Conn. 06880
800-728-3843
www.savethechildren.org

ISLAMIC RELIEF USA
Southeast Asia Earthquake Emergency
P.O. Box 6098
Burbank, Calif. 91510
888-479-4968.
www.irw.org/asiaquak

POST YOUR REACTIONS

DONATE TO TSUNAMI VICTIMS (COLLECTED BY THE ACHEHTIMES.COM)

How to Help (Network for Good)

More Link through Yahoo

 

   

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