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Posts Tagged ‘Free Aceh Movement’

In May 2003 Indonesia’s President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh to flush out the fighters, leading to a period of “extrajudicial executions

Posted by African Press International on October 11, 2013

Mohammed Jafar – still waiting on peace returns

ACEH/JIJIEM,  – Joining a rebellion is not a typical career move. Yet up to 26,000 people in Indonesia spent years working for a separatist rebellion that lasted nearly 30 years in northern Sumatra. Children followed their parents into battlefields and war rooms. Sons went abroad for training. Upon leaving the force, a number received payment.

But any similarities with gainful employment end there.

In May 2003 Indonesia’s President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh to flush out the fighters, leading to a period of “extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and drastic limits on freedom of movement”, according to Human Rights Watch.

An estimated 15,000 lives (from both sides) were lost during the war, which caused nearly US$10 billion in damage – roughly twice that of the 2004 tsunami.

Shortly after the tsunami hit the archipelago (the epicentre of the earthquake causing the tsunami was just west of the conflict zone, which bore the heaviest death and damage toll from the tsunami in the region), the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) declared a ceasefire.

IRIN met four former rebels to learn where they are eight years after GAM signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government that granted Aceh (now “Special Region of Aceh”) control over most areas of governance, excluding defence, foreign affairs and justice, among others.

The region is entitled to 70 percent of revenues from natural resources (land and sea). The peace deal pledged new local elections and identity cards. It was hailed as a success internationally, and eight years later, delegations are still coming from Sudan, Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka to learn how to broker peace after protracted fighting.

As part of the 2005 deal, 3,000 fighters (the number according to the pact) turned in 840 weapons and were each paid US$2,500 (at the December 2005 exchange rate).

In addition, the government paid another near $1,000 to 10,000 fighters who surrendered before the MOU signing. Research conducted for the European Union (EU)-led Aceh Monitoring Mission [ ] that followed the implementation of the peace pact calculated a total of 14,000 front-line fighters in 17 districts under GAM control, and another 12,000 people who played supporting roles in fighting.

The university spy
Eliyani binti Wahid, 29

Eliyani binti Wahid

Where she is now: A married stay-at-home mother of three, occasional small business shopkeeper and tutor for a programme to help other former rebels pass secondary-school certification exams.

Where she was then: Shortly before her father, a rebel commander, was killed in a government crackdown that started in May 2003, he sent her to the University of Medan in north Sumatra where she studied political science, while gathering sensitive information from military and police officers who did not suspect her GAM ties.

“I married in 2004. My husband [not affiliated with GAM] had no idea. There were lots of women in my [mountain village of Tangse] who joined the rebellion. Some fought, but most of us carried out intelligence work. I had weapons training from my father’s friends, but I never fought…

“Was it worth it? We did not get 100 percent of what my father was fighting to get. I would say we got about 30 percent. Even though we don’t have independence, our lives have improved. It is good enough. His death was not in vain.”

The child soldier
Irwansyah, 39 (nom de guerre: Teungku Machsalmina)

Irwansyah, a former commander of Free Aceh Movement, with his family in Banda Aceh

Where he was then: Joined GAM at the age of 10, rising through the ranks to become a central commander and, after the 2005 ceasefire, a rebel representative in the 2005-06 EU-led monitoring mission.

Where he is now: Founder of a breakaway political party in Aceh (National Aceh party) and law student.

“The 2005 peace deal has worked militarily. We all disarmed and the military pulled out of Aceh – but still there is no justice. The 70/30 split in revenues does not identify what types of revenue qualify. There is not yet truth and reconciliation, or any accountability for human rights abuses…

“When other governments ask me why we were willing to disarm, I tell them that we trusted our political leaders, and that it’s important to involve people from civil society in the peace deal discussions rather than just rebels and the government…

“We did not achieve independence, but that does not only mean statehood, but also freedom of press and speech as well as justice. That is also independence. And we are still fighting for it, just through different means. I am not tempted to take up arms again. With democracy, we don’t need to. But if we don’t get things right, it is imaginable that our children will need to take up arms again.”

The low-ranking fighter
Mohamed Jafar, 32

Where he was then: Dropping out of his final year of secondary school, he joined GAM at age 17 because he “admired the fighters”.

Where he is now: A farmer living in the Acehnese village of Jijiem, which was GAM’s headquarters. He earns $100-$200 monthly from selling rice and nuts in his village, where he lives with his parents and five siblings.

“Roads have not improved, but our livelihoods have, because farmers can go to paddies without fear of fighting. But there still is not much development here even though it is the heart of GAM’s [former] command centre.

“I fought for independence and though things did not turn out as I had hoped, I am not sure where to turn to demand change. The commanders don’t care. I am upset, but I am just a low-ranking fighter, so I accept. Life would be better if we won independence. It would be easier to get work, and revenue earned here would be for the Acehnese.

“I never received any money as part of the peace deal or any job training. Maybe my commander kept my money. I tried to get it from him, but he does not care. That’s just how things are. I can’t demand what I wasn’t given.”

The deputy
Kamaruddin Abubakar, 47 (nom de guerre: Abu Razak)

Kamaruddin Abubaka

Where he was then: A second-generation rebel, he was sent to Libya in 1988 for weapons training for 15 months where he stayed on as a personal guard to then President Muammar Gaddafi before returning to Aceh to recruit and train fighters. He moved up to deputy commander when the top field leader, Abdullah Syafi’ie, was killed in 2002.

Where he is now: Following the peace deal signing, he farmed cocoa and palm sugar for two years, before joining politics as deputy chief of Aceh Party, comprised mostly of former rebels. He still manages his farm and has a business distributing sugar and fertilizer in Aceh, for which he earns from $90 up to $9,000 monthly.

“When the government declared martial law [in 2003] the army hunted for me, even tracking down my wife to her classroom where she taught. I went into hiding in the jungle and sent my family [wife and three children] to the city for safety. When the tsunami hit [in 2004] all my family was killed…

“It is hard to believe any fighters did not receive money. Some people claimed to be former GAM on the day after the agreement was signed. We call them ‘GAM 16’ [agreement signed on 15 August]…

“Criticism is free for all parties and government. This is what a democracy is. It is not true we ignore former fighters. The military structure exists even though we are not at war. They still follow us.”

pt/cb  source

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Inventory of MILF weapons needed – Liberal gun ownership could impede disarmament

Posted by African Press International on August 15, 2013

What will it take for these MILF fighters to put down their arms?


  • Decommissioning body” to determine future of MILF weapons
  • Inventory of MILF weaponry needed
  • Liberal gun ownership could impede disarmament
  • MILF would rather take over security than disarm

COTABATO/ACEH,  – The Philippine government and Muslim rebels in Mindanao are inching forward in peace negotiations aimed at ending a long-running insurgency, but the toughest negotiations are likely to centre on how to disarm thousands of insurgents, officials and analysts say.

After months of stagnating peace talks, both sides agreed on a wealth-sharing deal in July that will give the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) powers of taxation, as well as a “profitable” share of mineral deposits by 2016 in a proposed autonomous region MILF would govern.

The deal gives MILF 75 percent of all the earnings derived from metallic mineral exploitation, half of all natural gas and oil revenues and the right to levy taxes on businesses operating in the area. It can also receive funding directly from donors, rather than going through the central government.

Presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles said the government wanted “clear deliverables”, in terms of weaponry, from MILF, which has waged an insurgency since the 1970s that has left tens of thousands dead and large parts of the south mired in poverty.

She said a “decommissioning body” was to be appointed by both sides to determine what happens to MILF’s weapons, which include machine guns, assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, small firearms and anti-tank weapons and mortars.

According to the peace process timeline, MILF will cease as a rebel force and reform itself into a political group that will take the reins of the proposed Bangsomoro autonomous region by 2016 when President Benigno Aquino ends his six-year term.

“There are difficult decisions to be made here,” Deles said. “You don’t want this normalization process to be a never-ending target, where they can still recruit while in the process of decommissioning.”

Chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the government must first conduct an inventory of MILF weaponry, register all fighters and determine how to entice them to lay down their arms – a difficult process considering that most of them were reared in combat and have had their weapons since they were young. With so much distrust sowed through years of opposition, many of the fighters fear any weapons surrendered could be used against them.

The IRA model

Among the models under consideration is the Irish model, when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) signed a peace deal in 1998 and agreed to stockpile their weapons in a warehouse before their destruction, she said.

Two decommissioning deadlines passed before the IRA agreed in 2001 on a method to destroy its arsenal, which was hailed by leaders then as “historic” and a “breakthrough”. Four years later, an independent commission announced the Irish fighters’ entire arsenal had been destroyed.

But back in the Philippines, security analyst Ed Quitoriano, a former ranking Filipino Communist guerrilla who has worked with foreign governments to assess arms proliferation in southern Mindanao, said asking MILF to disarm will be easier said than done.

He argues that national law allows for very “liberal gun ownership” on the premise that citizens have the right to defend their homes and personal welfare. Anyone who is 18 or older can legally own guns, subject to strict screening.

“Why would the MILF disarm when the government says taxpayers and corporations can arm themselves beyond their need?” Quitoriano asked.

Corporations in the south, as well as political warlords, are known to employ private armies, leading to a proliferation of firearms across the Catholic nation, where Muslims are a minority.

“There is no workable model for the MILF, I think – neither Nepal nor Aceh,” he said. “What may be possible is a symbolic disarming in exchange for something else.”


Under a 2006 peace deal between Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government, all rebel weapons were to be turned over and stored in containers under UN supervision.

In exchange, the United Community Party of Nepal (Maoist) received legal recognition, including the right to participate in elections. It was also agreed that the armed wing of the party – the People’s Liberation Army – would be integrated into the Nepal Army, something yet to be completed in 2013. Some 9,500 fighters are eligible for army integration, of which the government has agreed to accept 6,500.

Inventory of MILF weapons needed

In 2012 Nepal’s national army took control of seven main rebel cantonments (and some 20 satellite ones), along with some 3,500 weapons in sealed containers.

But according to a May 2013 publication from the Geneva-based independent research project, Small Arms Survey, based on other disarmament experiences, and given the number of Maoist fighters, there may be some 6,000 arms that were never submitted to UN control.


In the Indonesian province of Aceh, following almost 30 years of struggle with the central government, separatists with the Free Aceh Movement (local acronym GAM) signed in 2005 the Helsinki Agreement, which committed the rebels to turn over all arms, explosives and ammunition to a European Union (EU)-supported monitoring mission.

When asked why fighters disarmed there with little struggle or infighting, Kamaruddin Abubakar, the former number two leader of the rebellion, told IRIN: “We trusted our leaders. When we were told to put down our weapons, we did so. We were optimistic about the deal given the presence of EU monitors.”

The EU supported 300 peace monitors in Aceh whose mission expired following local elections held in December 2006.

The Philippines government, along with Sri Lanka’s and Thailand’s, recently sent delegations to Aceh to learn how its peace process, especially disarmament, unfolded, said Irwansyah (one name only), founder of a new political party in Aceh who was a rebel commander and representative in theEU monitoring mission.

“It was hard to put down our arms because we feared being arrested,” said Irwansyah. “But because of international support, we did so despite our fears.” He told IRIN the peace deal has been militarily successful, even though there are democratic shortcomings.

Reintegration concerns

In the Philippines, Quitoriano said MILF – because of its long years of armed struggle – has its enemies, with previous governments allowing political clans to arm themselves as an additional proxy force for the military against MILF.

There is also the question of what to do with MILF guerrillas who disarm. Ferrer said one solution is to absorb qualified members into a police force that will take over security of the autonomous region, although the vast majority of fighters never received formal schooling.

“The MILF will not commit to disarming its community-based armed supporters as well. That side has to be on the persuasion of government,” Quitoriano said. “What the MILF wants is not to disarm, but to take over security functions in the new territory.”

MILF enjoys large support in areas where it holds sway, especially from Muslim leaders in remote communities where the rebel movement has taken over the state function of fighting criminal elements due to lack of police.

MILF and its parent group the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), from which it broke away in 1978, has waged a rebellion for the past four decades demanding increased autonomy, which has left tens of thousands dead and thwarted efforts to develop mineral-rich Mindanao where many Muslims claim swathes of land as part of as their “ancestral domain”.

MNLF signed a peace deal with the government in 1996, and an autonomous region was created for it to govern. But despite millions of dollars in development aid, the autonomy was deemed a “failed experiment” in President Aquino’s own words; many areas remain among the poorest nationwide.

Some MNLF forces were absorbed into the armed forces, but were poorly trained and ill-equipped for the rigours of a strictly regulated fighting force. Those who were left behind did not surrender their weapons and went back to the jungle or hinterland where they regrouped or joined smaller bandit groups.

Aquino’s government last year signed a “framework agreement” with MILF calling for the establishment of a new political territory for itself within three years, replacing the region created earlier for the MNLF.

MILF vice-chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar told IRIN the next round of negotiations scheduled for August may be tougher than previous ones, and he expected the government to come up with “creative” offers on how to solve the question of normalization.

“We hate the word surrender. We can’t just disarm and give up our weapons. That will expose us to threats. We will only lay down our arms if clearly we see there is no more need to fight,” he said.

aag/pt/cb  source


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