INDONESIA: Letter from an Acehnese

Issue 

This letter was sent to Green Left Weekly for publication by Zely Ariane, the international affairs spokesperson of the Aceh solidarity group SEGERA. Green Left Weekly has been asking our readers to assist SEGERA's appeal after the tsunami, for details visit <http://acehsolidarity.blogspot.com>.

Within a few days of the tsunami hitting Aceh, SEGERA, which has until now primarily been focusing on political campaigning for a withdrawal of the Indonesian military from, and for peace in, Aceh, dispatched activists from Jakarta, almost all Acehnese, to Aceh and North Sumatra.

SEGERA set up an aid depot in Jakarta as well as in Medan, in North Sumatra, just south of Aceh. In Jakarta and Medan, SEGERA collected food, water, blankets and some medicines.

SEGERA activists also volunteered to work with broader NGO coalitions — like the Civil Society Coalition for Tsunami and Earthquake Disaster, and the Committee of Humanity Emergency — to help get other volunteers from Indonesia to Aceh.

In Aceh itself, SEGERA set up three monitoring posts and aid depots. Two depot posts were set up in the capital, Banda Aceh and one in the hard-hit area further down on the west coast, Meulaboh. These posts were all staffed by SEGERA activists who originated from the local areas. Of course, these activists were also concerned to find their own families. At least six members of SEGERA were killed in the tsunami and several others lost their whole or most of their families.

SEGERA has always been a political campaigning organisation involving both Acehnese and Indonesians together campaigning for a referendum process, for an end to militarisation, peace and social justice in Aceh. So we decided to set-up a new group in Aceh called CARE ACEH to organise the direct humanitarian work we were doing.

We are very grateful for the donations received from activists in Australia. We have received now $9150 that has been passed on by Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific (ASAP), including so many donations from individual activists. This money, together with other donations from the groups Solidariteit International in Germany — which we received through the Peoples Empowerment Consortium (PEC) in Jakarta in the form of office equipment and cash directly to Care Aceh; the Japan Confederation of Railway Workers (JRU); CAFOD South East Asia; and the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) has meant that the CARE ACEH depots in Aceh have been able to sustain their staffing and provide direct humanitarian assistance. This has concentrated on the direct distribution of food and medical care. CARE ACEH has been able to cooperate with medical workers to provide some medical care out of these depots.

CARE ACEH would like to expand our humanitarian activities to include establishing supplementary school groups for the displaced children, including the establishment of playgroups and small libraries. We would also like to initiate activities to help people regain a source of livelihood through cooperatives. We are still in search for funding to allow us to proceed with these kinds of initiatives.

While CARE ACEH continues with its operations of direct humanitarian aid, SEGERA has been continuing its campaigning work. The donations received from Australia, Germany, Japan, and the USA have been of great help in ensuring that we have been able carry out both kinds of work. We believe that the political monitoring of the aid effort as well as the campaign for peace and justice in Aceh must continue. In Aceh, activists at the CARE ACEH posts were constantly collecting data on aid distribution, checking for problems and lobbying and campaigning to correct such problems when they occurred.

SEGERA's political campaign activity is concentrated in Jakarta. On January 18, for example, we organised a demonstration outside the Presidential Palace in Jakarta. SEGERA was demanding that both sides implement the commitments made by both the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to a ceasefire. Despite the statements by both sides, the conflict has continued, despite the massive humanitarian problem that the people face.

At that demonstration, the SEGERA coordinator Ary Arianto called on the government to initiate negotiations. SEGERA called for the United Nations to be involved in any such dialogue and for groups apart from GAM and the TNI to be involved in any discussions. Talks have since taken place but with no outcome. SEGERA has always argued that negotiations have repeatedly failed because of the refusal to include broader forces from Acehnese society, namely, all those forces that have been involved in the struggle for democracy in Aceh. SEGERA has also made its view known that the reconstruction effort will suffer the same failure if there is not broad participation in the decision-making process on this.

The help from overseas also meant that we could move quickly to organise events to reach out to different sections of the community, especially in the capital, Jakarta. Combining with the Aceh Peoples Association (IKARA) and the cultural group Kenduri Cinta, we organised a major cultural event in the Jakarta Arts Centre, where many large popular cultural events are held, with theme "Rebuilding Aceh through Peace Negotiations". Prominent singers, Acehnese performers and other artists participated. Prominent religious and human rights figures also spoke. They called for better coordination of the aid effort, urgent peace negotiations and the release of GAM negotiators who had been jailed by the Indonesian government in 2002.

This was followed by a talk-back show on 68H radio station, organised by SEGERA in cooperation with the broad non-government organisation Aceh Working Group (AWG). On the radio panel were a member of the Acehnese Peoples Democratic Resistance Front (FPDRA), the AWG, the leading Acehnese intellectual and human rights campaigner Otto Syamsudin Ishak, and a commentator from a prominent political think-tank.

SEGERA and CARE ACEH will continue their work — both humanitarian and political. We thank you all again for your donations.

From Green Left Weekly, February 23, 2005.

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