Mon, 12 May 2003

Number of victims a yardstick of military success

With the probability of military action against separatism in Aceh, The Jakarta Post held on Friday a panel discussion on Aceh with former Indonesian Military (TNI) general affairs chief Lt. Gen. (ret) Suaidi Marasabessy, former minister of human rights Hasballah M. Saad, sociologist Otto Syamsuddin Ishak -- the last two being Acehnese -- and analyst Kusnanto Anggoro. The Post is publishing the views of each speaker starting Monday, beginning with Suaidi Marasabessy's view. Following is an excerpt.

A military operation is the most likely option to be taken by the government after the apparent failure of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) with the Free Aceh Movement. So what is the difference between the planned military operation and the Military Operation Zone (DOM) from 1989 to 1998 that so enraged the Acehnese?

From the military aspect, I am of the opinion that the military enjoyed it (DOM). It was arrogance. But we don't want that now. The problems in Aceh did not begin with the military. It was about uneven development. And when the problem came to the surface, TNI -- thinking it was a superforce -- would take away all the problems as if it was able to deal with them simultaneously. A similar situation also occurred in other restive areas, including East Timor.

Why do problems linger in Aceh? It's because all the components of the nation thought it was the TNI's problem. Unfortunately, TNI enjoyed the situation very much back then. This will not be so in the future.

We must agree with the paradigm that security restoration is just a small part of the integrated operation for Aceh if we are really serious about tackling the problem completely. It's not an easy job, and the media must also take part in prompting the people and government instruments to play a role in settling the Aceh problem.

I just spent four days in Banda Aceh, Takengon, Meulaboh and Lhokseumawe, meeting with hundreds of religious leaders, youth organization leaders and community members. I was surprised, they all said they wanted a military operation to curb the separatist movement. It was possible that there was some engineering by local military officials, but the audience applauded when one or two of them said that a military operation would be preferable.

I also witnessed the Acehnese people's mistrust of the central government. Most of the people I met said that there had been many visiting ministers, including the coordinating minister for political and security affairs, to whom they had told their problems and what they really needed. But they received no response. The question now is not an inventory of the problem, but the seriousness of the government in helping the people of Aceh.

I also witnessed show of force by the TNI in a parade in Lhokseumawe, where any military operation will be focused, and met with the police Mobile Brigade members who will be in the front line should a military operation take place.

Once a military operation commences, then there must be a clear yardstick by which to measure its success. The benchmark of a successful military operation should be a minimum number of casualties. Few victims indicate the success of any military operation. Judging from GAM's fighting strength, I believe there will be no face-to-face combat between the TNI and GAM.

Conventional war, with the warring groups stationed on their own bases, causes a minimum of collateral damage; unconventional war is the opposite, and this is likely to happen in Aceh, where GAM will slip into civilian settlements and use the civilians as human shields.

Fortunately, TNI personnel deployed in Aceh have been physically and mentally prepared to fight a good war with as few victims as possible.

As many as 50,000 troops will pour into Aceh. This doesn't mean that they will all go to the front line. Many of them will guard strategic locations, such as the ExxonMobil plant.

There will be seven infantry battalions at the front line, three of which will be combatant battalions. The other four battalions will be in charge of protecting residential areas. Members of the three combatant battalions are highly professional.

It is believed that GAM will use guerrilla tactics and try to prolong the war, while its leaders seek ways to get out of Aceh. The TNI will not set a time frame for the war, but I think six months will be enough. My calculation is based on efforts to create a conducive condition in Aceh before the general election (in 2004, so it could take a further two months. In such a plan, availability of funds is vital. Soldiers operate "on their stomachs"; in guerrilla warfare, if they have to rely on the people (for food) it could be very dangerous.

We have estimated the strength of GAM. We have very accurate information on their weaponry, their personnel and their hideouts and their contingency plan for the possibility of COHA totally failing.

The membership of GAM consists of three groups of people, each with separate motivations: 1. Fundamentalist radicals, who have ambitions to hold certain positions in the government. 2. Those who hold a grudge against the TNI, which oppressed them during the DOM period. This group of people is militant enough to prepare for a military operation. 3. Thugs, criminals, ex- convicts and military deserters. The third group includes businesspeople forced to finance GAM activities.

While in the GAM organization alone there are three groups: The armed wing, the political wing, including the Aceh Referendum Information Center (SIRA), and the clandestine group. There is nothing wrong with them (members of GAM) channeling their aspirations through a political organization, which is acceptable in a democratic country.

But I want to remind you that what has been happening in Aceh and other provinces, including Maluku, was previously had no military nuances.

Corruption was the core problem in Maluku and led to a bloody civil war.

Therefore, all components of society, including the local administration, should all have played significant roles in supporting peace efforts in Aceh.

In contrast, Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh and his staff failed to disseminate information about COHA, arguing that there was no funds for such a campaign. It is hard to believe that just because the provincial budget had yet to be approved (as claimed by Puteh), the governor did not promote COHA soon after it was signed. Meanwhile, GAM disseminated propaganda about COHA based on its own interpretation.

This is a very serious matter and is extraordinary. During my four-day visit I was told that corruption, collusion and nepotism were rampant in the administration. We (TNI) saw no reason for the governor to be wary of promoting COHA; he never even requested military escorts (for officials) in the campaign.

The governor has not played his role in supporting efforts to settle the Aceh problem peacefully. This is exceptional!

So when we are asked about the performance of the Aceh governor, we jokingly say, "Just replace him." The political process for the replacement could be a little bit complicated. There is the notion that if President Megawati Soekarnoputri declares martial law in Aceh, the military chief -- in his capacity as the provincial ruler -- would have the right and authority to replace the governor.