|Subject: CONG: Patrick
Dear Colleague on Aceh
January 13, 2005
DO NOT ALLOW THIS OPPORTUNITY TO PASS
I would like to share with you the following recent New York Times editorial concerning Aceh. As the editorial describes, this heart-wrenching tragedy can be a catalyst for healing a decades-long conflict in Aceh. Our country not only has an opportunity to help a devastated people re-build their shattered lives, but to help foster a return to the peace process among Acehnese guerillas, civil society, and the Indonesian government. That opportunity first lies with whether our government can impress upon the Indonesian government that the relief of displaced and suffering people should take priority over the continued suppression of guerrillas who have declared a unilateral ceasefire.
Already, we have seen positive signs. There is cooperation between individuals at the local level, and Indonesian contributions for Acehnese relief have run high. But there are signs of concerns. The Indonesian military (TNI) has failed to reciprocate the guerillas' unilateral cease-fire. Despite objections, the TNI has reportedly insisted that relief organizations such as Doctors Without Borders are accompanied by military escorts and that areas in desperate need of relief must first be cleared of separatists. There are some reports that the military has imposed restrictions on the moves of foreign aid workers and the distribution of humanitarian relief. A state of emergency dating back to May 2003 that restricts the access of humanitarian groups, diplomats, and journalists to Aceh remains in place. For peace to have a chance, the Indonesian government must lift the civil emergency now in place and not allow the TNI to hamper civilian relief efforts. Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure relief and reconstruction assistance are used transparently for their intended purposes. Furthermore, this great humanitarian catastrophe should not be used as a pretext to normalize military relations between the U.S. and Indonesia when there remain longstanding human-rights concerns. Past human tragedies of this scale have made people realize the common humanity that binds and unites them. Do not let the aftermath of this tragedy be a greater divisiveness and a more elusive peace. Do not allow this opportunity to pass.
Patrick J. Kennedy Member of Congress
EDITORIAL From the Ruins
The Indonesian province of Aceh and the country of Sri Lanka, united today by the ravage of a tsunami, previously had in common histories of man-made destruction. Both places are battlegrounds, the sites of long-running separatist guerrilla wars that have killed tens of thousands of civilians. Conflict is not helpful when there is catastrophe, and early reports from both areas indicate that enmity and suspicion have held up relief efforts.
But catastrophe can be healing for conflict. Working together in times of human disaster can help build confidence between the two sides, and foster a feeling of solidarity among ethnic groups. Just as important, the catastrophe offers politicians the opportunity to make compromises that would otherwise be politically impossible. Politicians and guerrillas in Indonesia and Sri Lanka should take advantage of these side effects of the disastrous situation to help solve their human conflicts.
In Aceh, where at least 100,000 people have died so far from the tsunami, rebels have fought since 1976 to free the province, which was an independent nation for centuries, from Indonesian rule. The Free Aceh guerrillas kill civilians, but 90 percent of the civilian murders in the region are committed by Indonesia's armed forces and paramilitary police. The war continues in no small part because Indonesian military officers are unwilling to give up a lucrative source of corrupt plunder. In May 2003, Indonesia imposed a harsh state of emergency, which blocked almost all outsiders from entering Aceh, including humanitarian groups, diplomats and journalists. Since then, at least 2,000 people have been killed.
Now Aceh is full of foreigners. There are anecdotal reports of cooperation between the sides in small ways, at the individual level. Prison wardens freed guerrilla inmates from a flooded prison, for example, and when a call was made for these fighters to return to help relief efforts, almost all did. Donations for Acehnese relief from the rest of Indonesia - where Aceh is not popular - have run high.
But so far the leaders are missing the opportunity. The rebels announced a unilateral ceasefire, but this was not matched by the military - long indifferent to how its actions turn Acehnese citizens against the government. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has not lifted the state of emergency. So the army is doling out aid while pursuing guerrillas. (Thursday, not far from where the tsunami hit, the Indonesian military killed seven men that it said were connected with the rebels, but whose relatives say were innocent victims.) And there are already indications that the military is looking at relief efforts as a continuation of the war. Soldiers are trying to heavily control aid to ensure that it does not fall into rebel hands while also skimming off the top. Some local citizens have said that the military does not let them travel to search for or help family members, and that soldiers have withheld aid from people who lack a special ID card given by the police in Aceh, a card many are too afraid to apply for.
Indonesia's politicians and military need international encouragement to pursue different policies. The president must lift the state of emergency, open all of Aceh and keep it open. As much as possible, civilian Acehnese should carry out relief efforts, as part of a necessary long-term demilitarization of the society. Officials of the United States, forbidden by American law to finance Indonesia's military because of its rampant human-rights violations, should not be making noises about resuming financial ties. Instead, outside nations should be encouraging the guerrillas to give up their armed struggle and the government to return to the terms of a peace agreement reached two years ago.
The dead in Sri Lanka lived in areas under government rule and in zones controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a ruthless guerrilla movement that since 1983 has fought for autonomy for the country's Hindu Tamil minority. A ceasefire was reached in 2002, but recently the guerrillas' leader had threatened to resume war.
Not surprising, suspicion is rampant in the tsunami's aftermath, with each side accusing the other of hijacking aid. Sri Lankans would benefit if both worked more closely with the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, a Norwegian-led group created after the ceasefire, to reach agreement on the roles each will play.
But cooperation between the two sides in Sri Lanka appears to be deeper than in Aceh, offering the warring parties a glimpse of the human side of their rivals. Both groups seem aware of the public- relations benefits of running efficient relief operations. Because Sri Lanka's victims come from all religions and ethnic groups, the tsunami has also united the nation, however briefly. It is a ripe moment in a malignantly divided country, one that both sides should seize to offer concessions that may quickly become, once again, unimaginable.
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