18 November 2003

Anti-separatist militias form in Aceh

Pro-military groups critical of human rights activists are emerging in Indonesia's conflict-ridden Aceh province, raising fears of a resurgence of East Timor-style militias.

Last week a group calling itself Berantas, or the People's Anti-Separatist Front, announced its formation and immediately issued a warning to Indonesia's government-funded but independent National Commission on Human Rights.

It called for the commission (also known as Komnas Ham) to be 'realistic and objective in carrying out its duties'. It warned: 'If not, Berantas and HBMB (a related group) will urge Komnas Ham to pack their bags and leave Aceh.'

The new groups have been endorsed by the military in Aceh, which this week begins its second six-month period of martial law as the Indonesian Government continues its campaign against separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Although the new groups say they have no links to the military, they have an office in a building that until recently housed the army's Aceh media centre and that still accommodates the army-controlled radio station. Their members also attend military social functions.

Army-backed militias in East Timor helped destroy infrastructure and killed hundreds after the 1999 vote for independence.

The terrible thing about what is happening in Aceh, and beginning in West Papua, is that both sides of Australia's parliament are ignoring human rights in favour of a need to get on with the government of the day in Indonesia. They tried the same policy, to their disgrace, for 25 years in East Timor and sat on their hands while genocide killed one East Timorese in 4. How many Acehnese or Papuans need to die for the Coalition and Labor to relearn the lessons of East Timor?

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