Mon, 12 May 2003

'Military operations will kill civilians'

President Megawati Soekarnoputri has ordered the military to prepare for deployment to Aceh in case the peace deal with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) cannot be saved. These developments have caused concern and fear among the Acehnese living in the capital. Those Acehnese The Jakarta Post spoke to about the matter asked that their identities be protected.

Saiful, not his real name, 32, is from Pidie, North Aceh. He works as a parking attendant in Blok M, South Jakarta, and lives in South Jakarta with friends:

I am against the military operation in Aceh because I am sure it will victimize innocent civilians. The people there have already been victimized by years of conflict.

I don't think the government will be able to cope with the situation if war breaks out.

I would not have so many problems with the military operation if the military could tell the difference between the separatists and the civilians.

I think the government has made so many mistakes over the years. It has exploited the people, completely ignoring the welfare of the local residents. It's no wonder they have reacted this way.

I believe that many Acehnese are now joining GAM because they want revenge for family members who were murdered or raped by the military.

I cannot identify my relatives or friends who are members of GAM. Some of my friends have joined the group. But I don't care about that, it's none of my business.

That's why I came here. I came to Jakarta to survive after I lost my job in Aceh. Besides, I could not bear the hardships of life in my village there.

But someday I want to go home. But when will I be able to enjoy a safe trip?

Ahmad, not his real name, 44, is an Acehnese businessman who lives in Bekasi with his wife and seven children. He moved to Jakarta from Aceh more than 10 years ago:

I agree with the military operation to fight the separatists, who have clearly done harm to most Acehnese. All of the investors are leaving the restive province due to the threat (from the separatists).

But I fear for the civilians if war breaks out. Before the operation begins civilians should be evacuated, to help make it easier to identify the separatists.

Also, the objectives of the movement have been harmed by various vested interests among the separatists themselves. They fight for money rather than freedom. They only extort investors and the residents.

I think 99 percent of the fault lies both with the corrupt local and central governments. GAM and military officers deserve the rest of the blame.

The local government always thinks about lucrative projects, and as soon as it starts to enjoy some benefits it ignores the people. The poor governance of corrupt officials has caused this situation.

I would suggest that the government empower the local people through education, so the locals would not be so easily deceived by the misleading separatist movement.

Meutia, not her real name, 29, works for a company in South Jakarta and lives in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, with her family, who came from Langsa, East Aceh:

It's hard to say whether I agree or disagree with the military operation in Aceh. I would say I'm somewhere in between the two options.

Frankly, I don't have strong emotional ties with Aceh since I was born here in Jakarta. But I'm concerned about the innocent civilians who could be casualties in a military operation.

I take pity on my relatives who still live there. Once my uncle told me how frightening it was when he was extorted by GAM members and then by military officers during separate routine operations.

I'm sure it is not easy to separate ordinary civilians from those affiliated with the separatist movement.

Besides, there are so many people with vested interests joining the separatist movement, which worsens the situation.

But the government has made a lot of mistakes in its treatment of the residents of the province. They live in a resource-rich area but they live in poverty because of the greedy government.

--Leo Wahyudi S