Situation in Aceh province of Indonesia
Delivered in Plenary - June 5th 2003
Indonesia is currently engaging in its largest military operation since the invasion of East Timor in 1975, against the GAM rebels in Aceh following the breakdown of a five-month-old cease-fire, and already there are reports of widespread suffering and human rights abuses.
The conflict has its origin in the fact that although the Sultanate of Aceh was never technically incorporated into the Dutch East Indies it was one of the territories handed over by Holland to Indonesia in 1949, following the UN-sponsored talks between Indonesia and the former colonial power. The Acehnese, although fellow-muslims, almost immediately began fighting for independence, and the province was given special status. The unrest is exacerbated by the Indonesian Government's exploitation of the province's gas and petroleum resources as well as the policy of transmigration which has seen many Javanese come to live and work in the province's coastal and industrial belts.
The earlier cease-fire aimed in part, from the EU's point of view, at ensuring Indonesian support for the worldwide fight against terrorism, whilst protecting the human rights of the Acehnese is clearly now defunct. President Megawati understandably wishes to prevent Indonesia falling apart. The army appears to have persuaded her, unwisely, that a military solution is possible. It is highly unlikely that the military option is the only one that will work in the long term. A political solution now needs to be found quickly.