Aceh Liberation Movement celebrates 25th anniversary

The Aceh Liberation Movement calls for an independent Islamic state in the northern part of the island of Sumatra, wishing to break away from the central government of Jakarta.

Negotiations between the ALM representatives, (GAM, in Indonesian), and the Indonesian government have been taking place for one year. Failure to reach a breakthrough has caused around 1,500 deaths so far in 2001 between government security forces and separatist guerrillas.

There are incidents almost every day in this former Sultanate, yesterday being no exception. The ALM called on the population to stay at home as tension rose in the area – a bomb attack wounded four civilians and two guerrillas were killed in a shoot-out with Indonesian security forces.

The ALM was founded by Hasan Tiro, who lives in exile in Sweden, on 4th December 1976, with the objective of creating a sovereign Islamic state. In November 1999, in a show of strength, 200,000 people marched in support of the independence process.

Last year, the Indonesian government of Abdurrahman Wahid granted a status of autonomy to the region in reaction to the growing level of tension and failure of the Indonesian armed forces to isolate the guerrillas. The courts in the province apply the principles of Islamic Law (the Sharia), one of the claims of the Islamic State of Aceh.

In the autonomy statute, a greater share of the province’s wealth was given to the local government, namely 70% of revenue from oil and gas and 80% from agricultural products and fishing. Furthermore, the province was authorised to raise its own flag, so long as it appeared beside the Indonesian one. The current President, Megawati Sukarnoputri (daughter of the founder of Indonesia’s independence, President Sukarno) pledged to respect the autonomous status of the province.

A “country” stitched together by the Dutch, as “Dutch East Indies”, Indonesia is a collection of 17,000 islands with tens of ethnic groups and languages. Its rich natural resources fuel the fires of local independence movements who claim a greater share of the wealth, which they feel is centred in Jakarta, for the Javanese, a fact which they resent.

East Timor was the most famous of the independence movements, Xanana Gusmao’s Maubere people given their independence after a 25-year armed struggle following Indonesia’s annexation of the territory from Portugal in the aftermath of the Portuguese Revolution on 25th April, 1974.

The problem facing Jakarta is that if the many other independence movements are to follow the same path, the country will implode into a myriad of oil-rich micro-states and Indonesia as such will cease to exist.