INDONESIA: Aceh war overshadows Jakarta peace conference

January 1, 1991


JAKARTA — On May 19-21, more than 60 peace activists from 26 countries met at Hotel Wisata to assess the challenges faced by the global peace movement and to develop a plan of action. The conference coincided with the Indonesian government's resumption of its all-out war against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

The conference, "Iraq and the Global Peace Movement: What Next?", was convened by the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South, the Jakarta-based Indonesian Centre for Reform and Social Emancipation and the Indonesian National Front for Workers' Struggles (FNPBI). A peace mission to Iraq on the eve of the US invasion, involving FNPBI secretary Dita Sari and Walden Bello, from Focus on Global South, was the impetus for the conference.

Representatives of peace coalitions around the world — including Britain's Stop the War Coalition, the US United for Peace and Justice coalition, Turkey's No to War Coordination, South Africa's Anti-war Coalition and the Asian Peace Alliance — participated.

Australian participants represented the Books Not Bombs student anti-war coalition, the Sydney-based Walk Against the War Coalition, the Victorian Peace Network and the Socialist Alliance. Also present were the French-based Association for Taxation of Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens, the Italian Social Forum, the Transnational Institute, Global Exchange, the World March of Women and Jubilee South.

Over three days, participants discussed the impact of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, the corporate exploitation of Iraq's resources, the role of the United Nations and initiatives to continue the momentum of the anti-war movement.

Two leaders of the Iraqi Democratic Opposition Current described how civil administrations are developing in some Iraqi cities, in defiance of the US occupiers. They rejected any role for a UN transitional authority. Instead, they advocated the holding of a "constituent assembly" of all political forces in Iraq opposed to the occupation to decide the country's future.

Pratap Chaterjee from Corpwatch presented an illuminating talk on the role of US-based corporations, such as Halliburton and Bechtel, which have secured lucrative reconstruction and oil contracts in Iraq. Halliburton was formerly headed by US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

The conference adopted statements on Iraq, globalisation and militarism, and on the wars in Mindanao in the Philippines and in Aceh. An action plan was also adopted. A plan to mark July 4, US independence day, with an international day of action were adopted, as were boycotts of US products to protest the occupation of Iraq.

Demonstrations to coincide with Hiroshima Day (August 6) and the anniversary of the start of the second Palestinian intifada (September 27) were also agreed on. The conference endorsed plans for an international week of action to coincide with the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Cancun, Mexico, from September 9 to 13. A variety of "peace missions" to sites of conflict were also discussed.

A resolution on Aceh was adopted by the conference. It condemned the military operation launched by the Indonesian armed forces and demanded the lifting of martial law and the withdrawal of all Indonesian troops and paramilitary police. The resolution demanded that those involved in human rights violations in Aceh be brought to justice and that the right of the Acehnese people to self-determination be recognised.

On May 21, a press conference was held to announce a plan for a peace mission to Aceh, to be led by Dita Sari, Walden Bello and other prominent figures. The Indonesian media quizzed those present on their views on Aceh. "The Indonesian government has failed to learn from the experience of East Timor", said Bello. He argued that a political, not a military, solution was required to resolve the conflict.

Bello drew a comparison with the failure of the Philippines government to militarily crush the movement for independence in Mindanao. Sungur Savran, a Turkish delegate, explained how his government had attempted to crush the Kurdish people's aspiration for an independent homeland, with the result that 30,000 Kurds had been killed in the conflict.

Immediately following the press conference, delegates joined a march of 400 Indonesian anti-war protesters to the offices of the International Monetary Fund and the US embassy. The protest coincided with the fifth anniversary of the overthrow of former Indonesian dictator Suharto. Opposition to militarism, neoliberalism and the war on Aceh were the themes of the protest, which was dispersed after a violent attack by police outside the Presidential palace.

Three Indonesian and four international delegates were arrested. The international participants were deported the following day and the Indonesians, who were severely beaten, have subsequently been released.

[Nick Everett attended the conference as a representative of the Walk Against the War Coalition and Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific. He was one of those arrested on May 21 and deported.]

From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.
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