Subject: JP Letter on Aceh and East Timor

Jakarta Post

Your Letter September 25, 2003

On Aceh and East Timor

Ramzy Hasibuan and Sumarsono Sastrowardoyo (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 9 and July 25) deplored my articles on East Timor (Jakarta rights tribunal buries E. Timor atrocities, Aug. 20) and Aceh (Unspoken protest amid prolonged war in Aceh, July 8) and uncritically rejoiced in Hilde May's criticism of my article on Aceh (July 15).

Sumarsono's and Hasibuan's angry responses do not address the facts raised. The responses presumably emanate from their patriotic mood, however misplaced. They don't change any conclusions in my articles, but suggest the syndrome from which many apparently still suffer: Our nation, from their point of view, rather unexpectedly "lost" East Timor.

Why should one continue to be disturbed by the issue, which, by implication, is a dishonest denial that the territory was never "ours," but was illegally annexed? Does it help reconciliation with the people of East Timor?

Hilde May, referring to my report on Aceh of last July, said "the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) ... eventually provoked martial law." It is not as simple as it may seem. If, as even the Indonesian Military has recognized, GAM indeed controlled a large part of Aceh, why should it prefer to live under martial law?

She reminded us that "GAM unlawfully collected ID cards" and "those who refused to obey GAM's orders had to face punishment." Worse still, the villagers I recently met in Bireuen and Pidie have confirmed that GAM (or men claiming to be from GAM) was responsible for intimidating village heads and for shooting at public transport vehicles, etc. I have written about this elsewhere.

For May to denounce my article as "one-sided" is therefore unfair. It is even more puzzling, as she expected me to explain whether I believed that "GAM would offer better leadership" while wondering "what kind of government, (GAM) would like to establish."

Why should I explain things that (as I made clear in the article) were unlikely to occur, and therefore didn't even mention?



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