Archived conflict (updated: January 2007)

In 2006, implementation of the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) continued successfully, resulting in the passing of a bill granting Aceh province considerable autonomy. Elections in December were well attended resulting in a 38 per cent victory by former rebel leader Irwandi Yusuf. Violent clashes between the government and GAM rebels were minimal and this armed conflict has now been deemed to have ended.

Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Arms Sources
Economic Factors

GAM rebels and the Indonesian government signed a comprehensive peace accord in August bringing an end to fighting that during the first half of the year claimed approximately 180 lives. The early phases of the peace accord were implemented by both sides.

2004 Violence between rebels and government forces continued through the year at a lower intensity than in 2003, with several serious clashes killing more than 300 people. The drop in fighting intensity allowed the government to end marital law in the province and revert to civilian emergency rule. A late-December tsunami devastated Aceh and killed an estimated 200,000 people.

2003 Conflict between the Indonesian military and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) fighters intensified in May when the government launched its largest military campaign in Aceh in a quarter of a century. The offensive, precipitated by the collapse of a 2002 peace agreement, killed more than 1,500 people, many of them civilians.

2002 A peace agreement was signed in December between the government and GAM rebels. Prior to the peace talks, fighting between the government and the separatists resulted in the death of people at least 1,000 people.

2001 Even as government and rebel negotiators agreed to extend a cease-fire, fighting between their troops intensified. Vowing to wage all-out war against government forces, the rebels issued a warning to Aceh non-natives to leave the province. By August, media reports indicated that more than 1,500 people had been killed due to the fighting, the majority of them civilians.

2000 Aceh experienced a sharp increase in violence with unrest spreading to most of the province. Violent clashes continued between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian security forces, despite the signing of a formal cease-fire in May. Government forces committed extrajudicial killings and used excessive force against suspected separatists as well as ordinary citizens. At least 1,000 people, mostly civilians and separatist guerrillas, were killed in 2000, over three times the number killed the previous year.

1998-1999 The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) re-emerged in late 1998, starting a new phase of the conflict and giving rise to the kind of counterinsurgency operations that led to numerous abuses in the first phase of the conflict (1989-1996). The rebels gained strength as exiles returned from abroad and the political climate within Indonesia allowed more channels for the expression of popular support. At least three hundred people, mostly civilians were killed in 1999.

1996 Although information is scarce, rebel activities reportedly went underground in 1996. Civilian and combatant deaths were reported in 1995. To date, most casualties occurred between 1989 and 1992 when an estimated 2,000 people died in the conflict. Since 1989 the armed Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh) movement has fought against the Indonesian government for the independence of Aceh in northern Sumatra. Popular support for independence has been fuelled by resentment over the unequal benefits of economic development in Aceh, and a perceived lack of respect for local custom and religion by Indonesian and economic migrants.

Type of Conflict

State formation


Parties to the Conflict:

1. Government, led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono:
• Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI — later the TNI);
• Indonesian police force;
• Iskandar Muda Military Command;
• Pro-government civilian militia.

Former Army General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, campaigning on economic and security issues, won the September 2004 presidential election by a wide margin.

“Jakarta has deployed around 40,000 troops to fight an estimated 5,000 poorly armed and ill-trained rebels in the oil and gas-rich region.”[Associated Press, November 6, 2003]


2. Separatist rebel group, the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or GAM)

The Free Aceh Movement was founded by Hasan di Tiro, who now lives in Sweden. [BBC News, 20 December 2000] The movement is led by Teungku Don Sulfahri, “who calls himself the Secretary-General of GAM and lives in an undisclosed location in Malaysia. [Inagate gateway to Indonesia].

“[GAM] claims to have some 6,000 personnel under arms, although outside analysts consider 3,000 a more likely figure, with additional fighters trained to provide support.” [Jane’s Defence Weekly, June 5 2002]

“Sometimes referred to as an Islamic movement, GAM insists it is inspired by secular nationalism.” [The Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 2002


Status of Fighting:

2006 The 2005 peace accord (Memorandum of Understanding or MoU) between the Indonesian government and GAM continued to be successfully implemented, with only three reported clashes between the two parties. As outlined in the agreement, all of GAM’s weapons were surrendered and destroyed, and the police and military withdrew from the province. Despite the successful peace between GAM and the government, local level disputes increased significantly. These disputes are related to local land and natural resources, vigilante violence, administrative issues, and aid distribution related to the 2004 tsunami.

“To date implementation of the Helsinki MoU has been highly successful. Weapons have been decommissioned and troops relocated under the supervision of AMM [Aceh Monitoring Mission]; former combatants and those participating in GAM activities have returned home; and, the provincial government, with assistance from various agencies, has began to put in place mechanisms for facilitating reintegration and assisting individuals and communities affected by conflict.” [ Peaceful Elections for Peaceful Aceh: Conflict Management Findings from 2004 and Implications for Aceh 2006,, accessed February 5, 2006]

“As GAM-Government conflict has dropped, local level disputes have increased and are now far more prevalent than conflict between the parties to the MoU. These conflicts include local land and natural resource disputes, vigilante violence, administrative issues and, increasingly, disputes relating to the targeting, distribution and provision of tsunami aid assistance.” [ The Aceh Peace Agreement: How Far Have We Come? World Bank Support for Post-Tsunami Reconstruction in Aceh and Nias, Indonesia, December 2006,, accessed February 5, 2006]

2005 Few and relatively minor instances of fighting were reported following the signing of a peace accord in August. In accordance with the peace accord, GAM rebels turned in hundreds of weapons and the government pulled out thousands of military and police personnel. Earlier, fighting between GAM and Indonesian forces occurred throughout Aceh despite a unilateral ceasefire declaration by GAM in December 2004 and on-going peace talks.

“During the first two phases of decommissioning, GAM surrendered a total of 570 weapons.” [Reuters, November 22, 2005]

“Monday’s withdrawal included, Indonesia has withdrawn some 12,000 troops from the province since late September…”[ISN Security Watch, October 24, 2005]

“Despite some last-minute jitters, there have been only a few allegations of foul play, none of them sparking much controversy. Pieter Feith, the Dutch diplomat overseeing the Aceh Monitoring Mission, issued a statement Wednesday saying the rebels had violated the agreement when a group of fighters opened fire on soldiers in North Aceh on Saturday, injuring two.” [Robin McDowell, The Globe and Mail, September 15, 2005]

“The Indonesian Military (TNI) rejected a cease-fire demand from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), and said it would continue to crush the rebel group until they fully surrender their arms. ‘We (the military) have been asked (by the government) to share ideas about the ongoing peace talks with the GAM leadership. We, indeed, support the peace process, but stress that there will be no cease-fire agreement,’ TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said on Wednesday.” [Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, June 9, 2005]

“Attacks by separatist rebels in the tsunami-hit Indonesian province of Aceh have intensified in recent weeks despite a renewed peace dialogue, military officials said Thursday. Aceh military spokesman Ari Mulya Asnawi said troops had killed 20 rebels in the month of April as the separatists stepped up their attacks in the region on the westernmost tip of Indonesia.” [Agence France-Presse, April 28, 2005]

“Sporadic gunfights between the rebels and security forces have occurred despite a unilateral cease-fire declared by the guerrillas after the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster. The insurgents, who are not known to attack foreigners, have also said they would not target aid groups.” [Margie Mason, The Associated Press, February 21, 2005]

2004 Persistent fighting continued through the year at a lower intensity than in 2003, the only break occurring in the immediate aftermath of a tsunami that hit in late December. The tsunami killed an estimated 200,000 people in Aceh.

“Reports from Indonesia’s northern province of Aceh say that more than 200 people have been killed by the army and police in the past two months. The continuing battle between security forces and separatists shows no sign of abating.” [Voice of America, July 21, 2004]

2003 Following the collapse in May of a 2002 peace agreement between the government and GAM – in part due to attacks on peace monitors throughout the province – the government initiated its largest military operation in Aceh in 25 years. Approximately 40,000 soldiers were deployed to the province to defeat 5,000 GAM fighters. According to government sources, the operation was successful, with over a thousand rebels killed and over a thousand rebel and rebel sympathizers captured. Many analysts accused the Indonesian security forces of massive human rights violations, including the targeting of civilians in their campaign. The government accused GAM of recruiting children, a claim that remains unconfirmed.

“While there were no reports of children being involved in Indonesian military forces, children as young as 11 were reportedly killed by government security forces after being accused of GAM membership… A police supervisor reportedly said ‘don’t look at their ages [but at] what they have done’. … Indonesian armed forces have reported the presence of armed teenagers within GAM… The Stockholm-based GAM leadership have denied using child soldiers and in June said they would be willing to let independent observers carry out investigations …” [Child Soldier Use 2003: A Briefing for the 4th UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict – Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, January 2004]

“On December 17 Human Rights Watch published ’Aceh Under Martial Law: Inside the Secret War,’ which documented summary executions, ‘disappearances,’ arbitrary arrests, beatings and other abuses against civilians by the Indonesian military.” [Indonesia: Military Must Control Conduct in Aceh – Human Rights Watch, December 24, 2003]

“Some analysts say Jakarta’s biggest military operation for a quarter-century, launched under martial law, has pushed the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) into a corner. … ‘The government’s target to destroy GAM’s military power has been achieved,’ said military analyst M.T. Arifin, who gave the most upbeat assessment. ‘GAM has been significantly weakened militarily, so have its social and political networks.’ … [The government] says more than 2,000 rebels or their supporters have been arrested or have surrendered and 485 weapons have been seized.” [Agence France Presse, November 18, 2003]

“The military says it has killed almost 1,000 since May, but admits that key commanders have largely escaped the crackdown. Around 300 civilians have also been killed. … Jakarta has deployed around 40,000 troops to fight an estimated 5,000 poorly armed and ill-trained rebels …” [Associated Press, November 6, 2003]

“Indonesia’s peace pact in Aceh suffered a major blow on Tuesday when peace monitors ordered their teams across the restive province to withdraw to the local capital following attacks on several field offices. … On Sunday, 300 Acehnese torched one peace monitoring office in east Aceh, while on Monday, 750 people besieged a facility in south Aceh demanding the monitoring team leave. Also on Monday, 40 police from an elite unit occupied an office in northern Aceh … “[Reuters, April 8, 2003]

2002 Tensions between the government and GAM intensified through the year as both sides continued to target civilians. Although the Indonesian government expressed its willingness to work towards a peaceful solution to the conflict, it increased its military presence in the province, and declared GAM a terrorist organization in accordance with post-September 11, 2001 parlance. In response, GAM began training an elite commando unit to improve its chances of winning a guerrilla war. Independent media claimed the December peace agreement did not put an end to all violence, and fighting continued between proponents and opponents of independence.

“The majority of the war’s victims are civilians and both sides are thought to have committed atrocities in the last year, including mass murder.” [International Crisis Group, March 27, 2002]

“… the Indonesian government is using the US-led counterterrorism campaign to justify its ongoing efforts to stamp out separatists … Analysts say the military has sought to paint Aceh, which has a conservative Muslim tradition and whose rebels are often portrayed as militant Islamists, as an antiterror crusade.” [The Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2002]

“… both sides admit they are in the earliest stages of the pact and much can still go wrong. Bullet-riddled bodies are still discovered every week – victims of continued fighting between proponents and opponents of independence.” [, January 14, 2003]

2001 Even as ceasefire talks were held fighting continued and intensified. In April the rebels issued a warning to all non-Acehnese people to leave the province, vowing to wage an all out war against government troops. Meanwhile, the government extended operations against the rebels.

“Abu Sofyan, a rebel commander in North Aceh, vowed to prepare an all-out war against the government troops by mobilizing part-time guerillas throughout the strife-torn region. ‘Our tens of thousands of guerillas who have already been well trained will be deployed in Pidie, North Aceh and East Aceh,’ Sofyan said. Sofyan also warned non-Acehnese people, especially settlers from Indonesia’s dominant island of Java, to leave the province. ‘Military operations in Aceh… have claimed the lives of unarmed civilians’, Sofyan said. ‘Therefore we call on the non-Acehnese to leave immediately.’ “[CNN, April 23, 2001]

“At least seven people have been killed in the Indonesian province of Aceh as government forces step up operations to hunt down separatist rebels. More than 10 truck-loads of soldiers have carried out sweeps in several villages in Tanah Luas sub-district in North Aceh to track down members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).” [BBC, May 7, 2001]

“Fighting in Indonesia’s Aceh province left at least 24 people dead as government officials and rebel negotiators met in Switzerland for peace talks.” [CNN, June 30, 2001]

2000 Aceh experienced a sharp increase in violence with unrest spreading to most of the province. Violent clashes intensified between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian security forces, despite the signing of a formal cease-fire (“The Joint Understanding on Humanitarian Pause) between the two parties in May. Acts of violence by both sides resulted in numerous human rights violations and hundreds of deaths. The military forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings, using excessive force against suspected separatists as well as ordinary citizens. Beginning in early February, security forces mounted Operation Sadar Rencong III in Aceh, a counterinsurgency operation reportedly designed to find and arrest GAM rebels.

“Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch today warned that the Indonesian government’s failure to address a rapidly deteriorating security situation in Aceh is leading to a huge increase in human rights violations. ‘Abductions, torture, and unlawful killings are taking place on a daily basis throughout Aceh’.” [Amnesty International, 26 September 2000]

“In the first two months of the cease-fire, which began on June 2, both sides reported numerous violations…” [The Washington Post, 15 August 2000, A18].

1999 There was an increase in GAM activities after late 1998, and in response Indonesian security forces intensified their counterinsurgency operations in Aceh.

“… the Indonesian authorities have sent in more troops – including so-called ‘crack’ police troops – who are targeting ordinary civilians as well as suspected members of GAM.” [International Secretariat of Amnesty International, 4 August 1999].

“… the northwestern province of Aceh…in recent weeks has been the scene of the worst violence in the region in almost a year.” [Asia Pacific, 13 January 1999]

“At least 100 000 people have been displaced by the conflict, according to government estimates; human rights groups in the area estimate twice that number.” [Washington Post, 16 August 1999, A9].


Number of Deaths:

Total: More that 6,000 people have died since 1998 in the second phase of the conflict. Approximately 15,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the beginning of the counterinsurgency operation by Indonesian security forces in 1989.

“GAM has been fighting for independence in the western Indonesian province since 1976… Decades of violence left over 15,000 people dead and thousands more displaced.” [Pan, Esther. INDONESIA: The Aceh Peace Agreement, Council on Foreign Relations,]

“About 12,000 people have died in the Aceh war that dates back to 1976, many of them civilians. Human rights groups have accused both the military and rebels of widespread human rights abuses.” [Associated Press, November 6, 2003]

“According to human rights groups, the turbulence of the past decade has resulted in the following figures: 3 000 civilians killed; 3862 disappeared; 4663 tortured; 186 raped; 16 000 orphans, and 90 000 refugees and internally displaced people. At least 100 mass graves were found, one containing over 200 mutilated bodies. Another 170 000 have been badly traumatized by the violence, and 6 800 have been rendered mentally ill.” [28 November, 1999]

2006 An estimated 15 people were killed in rare eruptions of violence, based on numbers compiled from the Aceh Conflict Monitoring Monthly Updates.

2005 Approximately 180 people were killed in clashes between Indonesian troops and GAM rebels. A significant number of civilians were killed during the Indonesian army’s “counter-insurgency operations.

“Since the beginning of the year, 178 deaths and 170 injuries have resulted from 108 GAM-GoI [government of Indonesia] conflict incidents.” [The Conflict and Community Development Research and Analytical Program of the Social Development Unit of the World Bank in Jakarta, Conflict and Recovery in Aceh: An Assessment of Conflict Dynamics and Options for Supporting the Peace Process, August 22, 2005]

“Armed forces chief Endriartono Sutarto said he would not end an offensive against Gam separatist rebels ahead of any peace deal. He added that the military had killed 3,300 rebels since a major offensive began in may 2003. But a Gam spokesman told the BBC only ‘a couple of hundred’ rebels had died.” [BBC News, June 8, 2005]

“Indonesian authorities will soon intensify the military offensive against rebels in the tsunami-ravaged province of Aceh, despite both sides recently agreeing to continue peace talks aimed at ending nearly three decades of fighting, news reports said Thursday. Aceh’s police chief Inspector General Bahrumsyah Kasman said that since the December 26 disaster, at least 26 armed clashes between the rebels and government forces have occurred in the province, killing at least 22 rebels, reported Kompas newspaper, a leading Indonesian daily.” [Deutsche Presse Agentur, March 17, 2005]

“Tensions between separatist militants in northern Aceh and the Indonesian government were growing last night after a series of violent clashes in which at least seven Indonesians were shot dead.” [Luke Harding, The Guardian, January 10, 2005]

2004 More than 300 people were reported killed in clashes between rebels and government security forces. Many of the larger casualty figures were unconfirmed government reports of rebel deaths.

“Indonesian soldiers killed 14 separatist militants during anti-rebel operations in war torn Aceh province on the weekend, the military said Monday.” [Agence France-Presse, August 16, 2004]

“Indonesian troops have killed 232 Aceh separatist rebels during the past two months of civilian rule after martial law was lifter in the troubles province on May 19, officials said on Wednesday.” [Deutsche Press Agentur, July 21, 2004]

2003 According to Indonesian military authorities, over 1,500 people were killed in Aceh following the inception of a May government offensive. GAM fighters accounted for two-thirds of the total, and civilian deaths exceeded 400. Due to restrictions on journalists and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) representatives within the province, independent assessment of the conflict was impossible. Many analysts feared a significantly higher number of casualties as reports circulated of abusive practices by the security forces.

“Police in Indonesia’s war-torn Aceh province said Wednesday that close to 500 civilians have been killed there since a major anti-rebel military assault began in May. … Military spokesmen in Aceh say more than 1,100 guerrillas and 67 police or soldiers have been killed since the government on May 19 pulled out of a ceasefire and sent 40,000 troops and police to wipe out the rebels. … Authorities have restricted access by foreign reporters and aid workers to the province on Sumatra island, hampering impartial assessment of the operation. ‘It’s difficult to get an independent assessment,’ said Sidney Jones, Indonesia project director of the International Crisis Group of analysts.” [Agence France Presse, November 18, 2003]

2002 Media reports estimate at least 1,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed this year.

“Violence has continued this year, adding about 10 people a day to the death toll which has now reached about 10,000.” [BBC News, September 25, 2002]

“According to the victims and eyewitnesses, on 12 January about 20 heavily armed soldiers arrived at Ule Jalan. They left a trail of death and destruction. In addition to the burning of houses, 10 civilians were tortured, 13 suffered injuries and Safriadi, aged 17, was shot dead.” [BBC News, April 22]

“… 10 civilians were shot and three were abducted, victims of fighting between the Indonesian Army and the rebel Free Aceh Movement known as GAM.” [The Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 2002]

2001 According to media reports more than 1,500 people were killed by August, the majority of them civilians. In July and August a number of mass graves were found in various locations throughout Aceh. The government and rebels blame each other for the atrocities.

“Separatist rebels have blamed the Indonesian military and President Megawati for killing at least 31 people in the restive province of Aceh. The victims were lined up and gunned down just hours before President Megawati Sukarnoputri swore in her new cabinet. It was the worst mass killing in Aceh for more than a year. Top military officials attending the swearing in ceremonies bristled at the accusations, instead blaming Free Aceh for the killings.” [CNN, August 10, 2001]

“More than 1,500 people, most of them civilians, have been killed so far this year.” [BBC, August 19, 2001]

“Reports from the troubled Indonesian province of Aceh, say another mass grave has been found, near to the scene of an abduction last week of 31 plantation workers, at Langsa in East Aceh. Workers of the Indonesian Red Cross unearthed the bodies of nine people. Last week dozens of bodies were found in another mass grave. Local police blame supporters of the Free Aceh separatist movement, GAM. But GAM says the killings are the work of the Indonesian military.” [BBC, August 21, 2001]

2000 Approximately 1,000 people, mostly civilians and separatist guerrillas, were killed in 2000.

[Sources: The Associated Press, 8 January 2001, CNN, 6 January 2001]

“More than 960 People were killed in 2000 in violence involving separatist guerillas and security forces, according to rights groups.” [AFP, 10 January 2001]

“According to Acehnese monitoring group, over fifty noncombatants are being killed each month, some singled out for suspected sympathy to the rebels, others killed when soldiers open fire on vehicles at checkpoints or raid homes in search of rebels.” [Human Rights Watch.]

“On the rebel side, there is evidence that GAM guerrillas, who have significantly stepped up ambush killings of police and military, have physically threatened non-Achenese communities in Aceh, leading thousands to flee the province. The guerrillas have also reportedly summarily executed suspected informers and prisoners.” [Human Rights Watch]

“In Aceh the military forces and national police committed numerous extrajudicial killings and used excessive force to quell separatist movements…TNI personnel often responded with indiscriminate violence after physical attacks on soldiers. There continued to be credible reports of the ‘disappearance’ of dozens of civilians… “[Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, US Department of State, 2000]

1999 At least three hundred people, mostly civilians, were killed in 1999.

Operation Sadar Rencong “…follows a spate of killing of security forces in ambushes. Police officials report that from July to December 1999 alone, 53 police were killed and many more were injured in such attacks. Counterinsurgency operations, however, have relied heavily on roadblocks and brutal house-to house searches often accompanied by indiscriminate violence against unarmed civilians. Hundreds have been killed…one particularly disturbing aspect of the conflict has been the increasing frequency of ‘mysterious shootings’ and assassinations by unknown third parties.” [Human Rights Watch]

“In Aceh, dozens of low-level civil servants, police and military personnel were murdered over the course of the year.” [Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, US Department of State, 2000]

“On May 3, troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in Krueng Geukeh, north of Lhokseumawe, Aceh, killing at least 40 persons and wounding over 100 more. Many of the dead and wounded persons were shot in the back. No one has yet been tried or punished for involvement in the February Idi Cut incident or the Krung Geukeuh incident.” [Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, US Department of State, 2000]

Political Developments:

2006 This year saw many political developments take place as the part of the implementation of the 2005 peace agreement (Memorandum of Understanding, or MoU). Exiled rulers of GAM, who had lived in Sweden for the past 30 years, returned to Indonesia in April, and discussed the peace process with the Indonesian Vice President. In July, the Indonesian government unanimously passed a 116 page bill outlining Aceh’s autonomy according to the requirements in the MoU. GAM members did not support all aspects of the bill, saying that it was not specific on the level of intervention allowed to the Indonesian government, specifically in the area of the number of military troops that could be deployed, which was set at 14,700 in the MoU. Local NGOs also disagreed with parts of the bill, and called a general strike, shutting down major centres on July 11. Despite these disagreements, the AMM (Aceh Monitoring Mission, consisting of contributors from the European Union, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines and Singapore, Norway and Switzerland) supported the bill.

The passing of the bill allowed for general elections, which took place on December 11. Of the 2.6 million registered voters, 2 million voted. Former separatist leader Irwandi Yusuf won the election with 38% of the votes. The Indonesian Government stated that it would support the results, regardless of who won. Following the successful election, AMM members left, having completed their duties.

“A group of exiled leaders of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) have left Sweden to visit their homeland in Aceh, Indonesia for the first time in some 30 years…The group is expected to stay in Aceh for three weeks. “We also plan to meet with representatives from the Indonesian government and discuss any problems or failures from the peace accord, such as Aceh’s delayed local election law,” Irwandi Yusuf, a spokesperson for the GAM said. The exiled leaders fled Aceh in 1976 after declaring independence from Indonesia and set up a self-styled government in Stockholm.” [‘Exiled Aceh separatist leaders head home for first time in 30 years, Indonesia’, Apr 19, 2006, Asia-Pacific Daily Report]

“Today, the law was unanimously passed and gives more autonomy to the country’s westernmost province. The 116-page bill gives the province control over some 70 percent of its wealth, including oil and gas reserves, the Associated Press reports. According to Reuters, the bill includes an opportunity for local political parties to compete in elections next year and for independent nominees to run in local contests this year. However, GAM officials said that they were disappointed with the bill, saying that it fell short of the peace pact’s promises to give the province control of most of its affairs.”[‘(Indonesian parliament passes historic Aceh bill’, Indonesia, Jul 11, 2006, Asia-Pacific Daily Report]

Indonesia said today (Tuesday, December 12) that it will respect the outcome of the recent Aceh elections. Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said, “The government will respect the outcome regardless of who wins… We must congratulate whoever wins elections.” [‘Indonesia to respect Aceh polls outcome’, Indonesia, Dec 12, 2006, Asia-Pacific Daily Report]

“Aceh’s electoral commission announced Friday (December 29) that a former separatist rebel has won the first direct election for governor in Aceh province. According to Reuters, former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebel Irwandi Yusuf won some 38 percent of the vote… About 2 million people out of 2.6 million registered voters voted in the December 11 election… Elections were also held for mayors and district chiefs in Aceh, although these election results were not immediately available.” [‘Ex-separatist rebel wins gubernatorial race in Indonesia’s Aceh province’, Indonesia, Dec 29, 2006, Asia-Pacific Daily Report]

2005 Following peace talks in the first half of the year, the Indonesian government and GAM signed a peace agreement in Finland in August. Under the deal the GAM agreed to disarm and changed its demand for independence from Indonesia to “self-government within Indonesia in return for large Indonesian troop withdrawals, amnesty for its fighters, the release of prisoners and the right to form local political parties. The early phases of the implementation process went as planned marked by significant disarmament by GAM and large troop withdrawals by the Indonesian army and police forces. The reintegration of GAM rebels into civilian life and the adoption of a new law incorporating the peace accord’s provisions by the Indonesian parliament remain potential obstacles to further implementation.

“The Aceh peace process is working beyond all expectations. Guerrillas of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) have turned in the required number of weapons. The Indonesian military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI) has withdrawn troops on schedule. The threat of militia violence has not materialised. Amnestied prisoners have returned home without incident. The international Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM), led by the European Union’s Peter Feith, has quickly and professionally resolved the few violent incidents between GAM and the TNI. A new law on local government in Aceh, incorporating provisions of the 15 August 2005 peace agreement signed in Helsinki, has been drafted in consultation with broad sectors of the Acehnese public and GAM, and submitted to the Indonesian parliament. While there are still challenges, the peace process has active support from the highest levels of the Indonesian government, and Acehnese who were sceptical at the outset that it could hold are slowly beginning to change their minds… The peace process now has entered a critical stage on two fronts. The first of these involves the reintegration of former GAM members into civilian life… The second front is the legal process of incorporating the provisions of the 15 August agreement into a new law that must be adopted by the Indonesian parliament.” [International Crisis Group, Aceh: So Far, So Good, Asia Briefing N°44 13 December 2005]

“The Indonesian military on Sunday withdrew the last of a promised 6,000 troops from Aceh Province, completing the first phase of the peace accord signed by the government and a separatist rebel group last month…By Sunday, the rebels had turned in 25 percent of their weapons, fulfilling their obligation for the first of four phases of the peace accord signed in Helsinki, said Faye Belnis, a spokeswoman for the Aceh Monitoring Mission.” [Peter Gelling The New York Times, September 25, 2005]

“On Monday, the Indonesian armed forces completed the first phase of their withdrawal from Aceh. About 1,300 soldiers boarded a navy ship and left north Aceh for bases elsewhere in Indonesia. About 30,000 non-local police and military forces are scheduled to leave Aceh by the end of the year. “Also Monday, the Indonesian justice and human rights minister, Hamid Awaluddin, said more than 90 percent of the 1,500 jailed separatists would be eligible for amnesty and could be free by the end of August.” [Evelyn Rusli, International Herald Tribune, August 23, 2005]

“Indonesia’s government and rebels from the province of Aceh are set to end a long conflict with the signing of a peace treaty in Helsinki on Monday, a deal that came together in the aftermath of the tsunami that devastated the Indonesian region. The agreement is based on the rapid disarmament of the rebels, the withdrawal of Indonesia’s military and police, and greater self-governance for the resource-rich province, according to a draft seen on Sunday.” [Evelyn Rusli, International Herald Tribune, August 15, 2005]

2004 Martial law ended in May with the restoration of emergency civilian rule that was extended in November. Former Army General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, campaigning on economic and security issues, won the September 2004 Indonesian presidential election by a wide margin. A late-December tsunami killed around 100,000 people in Aceh and will likely have a major impact on the region and the conflict. Reports of torture carried out by government security forces were released by observer groups and quickly denied by the government.

“The Indonesian parliament has approved the extension of a state of civil emergency in the province of Aceh. The move gives the authorities extra powers to combat local separatists.” [BBC News, November 17, 2004]

“Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won by a huge margin, giving him a powerful mandate, which he has promised to use well.” [BBC News, October 9, 2004]

“Indonesian soldiers have been routinely torturing suspected Acehnese rebel prisoners, according to US-based group Human Rights Watch.” [BBC News, September 27, 3004]

“After a year of military operations aimed at wiping out a rebel secessionist movement, the Indonesian province of Aceh is now back in the hands of civilians.” [BBC News, May 24, 2004]

2003 The peace agreement signed by the government and GAM rebels in December 2002 collapsed in May, with both parties failing to comply with agreement terms; rebel fighters were reluctant to disarm and Indonesian security forces failed to withdraw to defensive positions. The government declared martial law in Aceh for six months and initiated military operations against GAM fighters. Martial law was extended in November.

“‘The government has decided to extend … martial law in Aceh. The extension will last six months. The military operation will continue,’ top security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said after a Cabinet meeting chaired by President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Yudhoyono said the operation would be evaluated monthly and could be ‘extended or shortened’ but said nothing about reviving the peace negotiations with the rebels.” [Associated Press, November 6, 2003]

“Under the terms of the [December peace] agreement, the rebels were supposed to place their weapons in special arms dumps, and the Indonesian military was meant to withdraw to defensive positions. Neither Jakarta nor GAM has so far fulfilled its side of the bargain, and both sides continue to blame each other for the breakdown in relations.” [BBC News, May 6, 2003]

“The rebels appear to have used the reduction in violence that followed the signing of the ceasefire agreement in December to significantly increase their fighting strength. They are no closer to accepting autonomy, as an alternative to independence, than they were 27 years ago.” [The International Herald Tribune, May 5, 2003]

2002 A peace agreement signed in December in Geneva gave Aceh province autonomy and control of most of the revenue from the sale of its natural resources, mainly timber and gas. The plan called for gradual disarmament and demilitarization. It also established a Joint Security Committee (JSC) comprised of representatives of the Indonesian government and GAM, and a mutually endorsed third party to monitor the peace process. More than 23 countries offered support for reconstruction of the province.

“Since the signing, more than 23 countries have pledged reconstruction money. International aid organizations and the United Nations are assessing Aceh’s needs, and the Indonesian government says it will build roads, telephone and electricity lines and reconstruct war-damaged mosques and government offices.” [, January 14, 2003]

“The greatest threat to peace could come from continued depredations by ‘rogue’ elements and provocateurs.” [, December 18, 2002]

2001 In February government and rebel forces agreed to extend a cease-fire negotiated in 2000 but even as talks were held the fighting continued. Megawati Sukarnoputri, following her election as Indonesian’s new President in July, announced a new approach to the Aceh conflict which included providing a measure of autonomy for the province, the right to adopt Sharia law, and a 70 per cent share of the province’s oil and gas revenues.

“The Indonesian government and separatist rebels from Aceh province have agreed effectively to extend their cease fire by one month. The two sides agreed to a ‘moratorium on violence’ during peace talks in Geneva. But the killings continued in the resource rich province within hours of the deal being struck.” [BBC, January 10, 2001]

“Just days after assuming office, President Megawati issued two presidential decrees dealing with separatism and human rights. Her first was a well received decision to order the formation of an ad-hoc tribunal to try crimes of human rights violations in the former Indonesian Province of East Timor. A second decree kicked off a wide-ranging autonomy plan for the rebellious province of Aceh. The plan takes effect in one years time, offering 70% of oil and gas revenues to residents who have long claimed Jakarta has siphoned off the profits from Aceh’s natural resources.” [CNN, August 17, 2001]

2000 The government of Abdurrahman Wahid refused to declare martial law in Aceh, calling instead on security forces to use peaceful operations. Wahid also proposed greater political autonomy and pledged an increase in Aceh’s share of resources in the province. In May, the Indonesian government and Aceh rebel leaders signed a temporary truce accord – a ‘Humanitarian Pause’ (initially for 3 months, but extended later to January 2001). Tensions escalated nevertheless as calls for self-determination and independence by the people of Aceh were ruled out by the Indonesian government on the grounds they would lead to the breakup of the entire country.

[Sources: Amnesty International, 26 September 2000; BBC News, 9 January 2001 and 10 January 2001; BBC, 4 December 2000]

“The separatists want a UN-sponsored referendum on independence like the one in East Timor last summer. Officials in Jakarta have flatly ruled out such a step.” [The Washington Post, 15 August, 2000, p. A18]

“After several months, Indonesia’s military is re-emerging from the shadows. On June 13, the head of Indonesia’s armed forces (TNI), Admiral Widodo Adisucipto, warned that the country was sliding into chaos and that the government’s first concern was to prevent the nation’s disintegration. Widodo’s statement typifies the military’s concern about Indonesia’s territorial integrity and its dissatisfaction with President Abdurrahman Wahid’s effort to solve the problem.” [Defence Systems Daily, 12 June 2000].



Aceh, a province of 4.1 million people, is located on the northern tip of Sumatra island, about 1,750 km northwest of the capital Jakarta, and at the head of the Malacca Strait, one of the most strategic waterways in the world, linking the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The human rights situation in Aceh is characterized by decades of exploitation and repression, stemming initially from the economic and political exploitation of Aceh within the Indonesian state, and extending into the crackdown on the Acehnese independence movement and supporters. Aceh and its mostly Moslem population have been part of the Indonesian republic since its birth and played a major role in the fight against the Dutch colonisers. Aceh was promised special autonomous status at independence, but Indonesia never followed through. Ever since, the province has been experiencing waves of revolt, one of the major ones occurring in the 1970’s with the appearance of guerrilla insurgents called the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM), fighting for the independence of their province.

The enforcement of the Military Operational Zone (DOM) in 1989 marked the start of the period of most brutal repression lasting until 1992. Then-President Suharto designated Aceh as a military operations area to implement counterinsurgency operations against the GAM. The Indonesian army exercised indiscriminate violence, waging a campaign of terror involving widespread extra-judicial killing, torture, rape, kidnapping, arson and harassment resulting in thousands of victims. However, by 1997 the conflict became dormant and rebel activities went underground .

The second phase of the conflict began in 1998. With the resignation of Indonesia’s second president, Suharto in May 1998, frustrations were once again unleashed and separatist sentiments increased across the archipelago. When B.J. Habibie, Suharto’s successor decided to allow an independence referendum for East Timor, Aceh separatists became encouraged that they could achieve similar results. However, the armed forces moved thousands of troops into Aceh, once again with the aim of suppressing the separatists without any real effort to address Acehnese demands for justice.

Following the election of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri in July 2001, a government proposal for autonomy for the province became the basis for a peace agreement signed in 2002. However, this peace agreement was short-lived and the conflict was revived in May 2003. Peace talks began again after the December 2004 tsunami, which resulted in the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in August of 2005, which allowed Aceh to receive some degree of autonomy. This has been implemented successfully, with very few clashes taking place between the two parties.

“Since Suharto’s fall, the situation in Aceh has become increasingly complex. A broad based coalition of students, clerics, intellectuals, civil servants, and entrepreneurs, though opposed to the violent methods of the rebels, have become outraged at the government’s failure to put an end to the military’s dismal record of abuses in the province and now share the insurgents’ anti-Jakarta sentiment. Distrust of Jakarta runs deep, as do demands for justice for the perceived wrongs heaped on Aceh for more than a decade, and demands for more equitable sharing of the substantial revenues produced by oil, natural gas, and other extraction industries. Greater political, social, and economic autonomy are objectives now widely shared among Achenese.” [Human Rights Watch]

“From 1989 to 1998, the Indonesian security forces conducted counter-insurgency operations against an armed opposition group, Free Aceh Movement, in the province of Aceh, northern Sumatra. In the context of the counter-insurgency operations, large-scale human rights violations were committed by the security forces including extrajudicial executions, ‘disappearances’, torture and rape, imprisonment of peaceful activists and unfair political trials.” [Amnesty International, 3 August, 1999]

“Calls for a referendum on Aceh’s political status that began in January were fuelled by bitter disappointment over the lack of accountability for atrocities committed by the Indonesian military during its operations there from May 1990 to September 1998. Students initiated the demand for a referendum in an Aceh-wide congress on January 28, 1999, but it was taken up by others including members of the local parliament and, on September 14, by influential religious leaders who comprise the Ulama Council of Aceh.” [Human Rights Watch, World Report 2000]


Arms Sources:

Indonesia’s recent military suppliers include the United Kingdom, USA, Germany, France, Russia, Czech Republic, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, South Korea, Australia, Slovakia, and Singapore. Indonesia also draws on domestic arms production. The US and the EU suspended arms transfers in 1999 due to the horrific human rights record of the Indonesian military. The EU did not renew the arms embargo when it expired on January 17, 2000. In August 2002 the US restored partial military ties and offered a US $50 million anti-terrorism package to Indonesia that includes police training, exchanges for high-level military personnel, and the establishment of an anti-terrorism unit. In 2005, the US resumed full military ties with Indonesia.

Rebel groups have obtained weapons from the Indonesian military as well as through Malaysia and Thailand. They have also been known to use home made weapons.

[Sources: SIPRI Yearbook 2002 to 2005; The Military Balance 2000-2001 to 2004-2005; BBC News, July 12, 2002]

“Indonesia plans to buy Hercules planes from the United States as early as January following the resumption of full military ties with Washington…The US restored military ties and lifted an arms embargo…as a reward for Jakarta’s cooperation in the war on terrorism.” [The Daily Times, November 26, 2005]

“During Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s visit to Moscow in April 2003, the two countries signed a $193m contract under which Russia will supply Indonesia with two Su-27SK and two Su-30MK aircraft and two Mi-35 helicopters.” [The Military Balance 2003-2004, p. 298]

“The US Congress has again blocked military aid to Indonesia despite the Bush Administration wanting to draw the Indonesian Army into the ‘war on terror’. The US Senate unanimously approved a measure to cut $US400,000 ($570,000) in military training assistance next year in an effort to force the Indonesian Government to fully co-operate in the investigation into the murder of two American teachers in Indonesia’s eastern-most province, Papua, last year.” [Sydney Morning Herald, October 31, 2003]

“Human rights and peace groups from around the world have called for an international military embargo on Indonesia, whose troops are waging an all-out offensive against separatist rebels in Aceh. … The armed forces are using British, US and french military equipment in the operation.” [Agence France Presse, June 24, 2003]

“If confirmed, evidence of Indonesian military involvement [in the murder of Theys Eluay] could seriously impair the Bush administration’s efforts to restore U.S. assistance to the Indonesian military, suspended in 1999 to protest the involvement of the armed forces in human rights atrocities in East Timor. Such evidence would also represent a setback to a key U.S. foreign policy goal in Southeast Asia of engaging the Indonesian military, known by the initials TNI, in the campaign against terrorism.” [Washington Post, November 3, 2002]

“Thousands of rounds of ammunition, 22 pistols and semi-automatic weapons, and seven kilograms of marijuana, which is widely available in Aceh, were seized in raids that began Monday, police Colonel Nono Suprijono told the daily Jakarta Post newspaper. Human-rights groups in Aceh have long suspected army officers of providing guns to rebels, but last week’s arrests clearly caught them by surprise.” [The Globe and Mail, 8 March 2000]

“Since September 11, the [Bush] administration has lifted the ban on non-lethal arms sales to the Indonesian military, restored regular meetings between U.S. and Indonesian military officials, and gained congressional approval for a new, $18 million regional counter-terror program which may be used to train Indonesian officers. It also asked Congress to approve some $8 million this year to train and equip a military force to act as a peacekeeping unit fro internal conflicts that police are unable to control.” [, May 23, 2002]

“Many Acehnese people believe there is deliberate campaign to give GAM weapons so that the army has the excuse to keep operations going here.” [Globe and Mail, 8 March, 2000, A10]

“Aceh’s guerrillas are reportedly receiving arms through Malaysia and Thailand, and some have received training in Libya.” [Human Rights Watch]


Economic Factors:

Economically, the Acehnese feel they have endured many years of exploitation. The rich natural resources of their province, consisting of oil and gas reserves, has been supplying 20 per cent of Indonesia’s annual budget, with only one per cent re-invested directly or indirectly in the province, which remains underdeveloped and impoverished. The increasing presence of multinational corporations has further alienated the Acehnese from their own land and resources. However, Acehnese demands are not limited to economic justice. Rather, separatists see the province as distinct from greater Indonesia, and demand cultural and political independence.

The signing of the MoU between the Indonesian government and GAM resulted in the government’s passing of a bill in July 2006 that granted Aceh autonomy and significant control of its resource wealth. Current local disputes that have become more common are the result of a lack of re-integration of former GAM troops into the working economy, and disagreements over how tsunami aid should be distributed.

“The 116-page bill gives the province control over some 70 percent of its wealth, including oil and gas reserves, the Associated Press reports.” [‘Indonesian parliament passes historic Aceh bill’, Indonesia, Jul 11, 2006, Asia-Pacific Daily Report]

”Much still has to be done to reintegrate former GAM into social and economic life. Initial benefits for combatants, prisoners and conflict-affected persons are welcome but will not in themselves create sustainable livelihoods. There is a danger that as former conflict actors see no real benefits from the peace, they will become less invested in it.” [‘Security in Aceh Much Improved and Must be Consolidated through a Comprehensive Reintegration & Rehabilitation Program’, World Bank Press Release December 7, 2006]

“Elements on both sides have an economic interest in a continuing conflict – getting a cut from public works contracts, extortion on the roads, the marijuana trade, involvement in illegal logging,’ ” [International Crisis Group’s] Jones said. [Agence France Presse, April 13, 2003]

“Among other complaints, the separatists say Jakarta has siphoned off too large a share of the income from Aceh’s energy and other resources.” [Reuters, January 26, 2003]

“According to La Kasspia (… Aceh Institute for Social Political Studies), the demands for wide ranging autonomy came from government and local parliament circles that see the conflict in terms of economic grievance, and have an analysis that with prosperity will come peace… Conversely, GAM, according to La Kasspia, identify the problem as not simply economic but also as one of human rights, ethnic identity and the right to return to its former sovereignty.” [Peace Brigades International, Spring 2002]

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