It must be understood that our officers may behave quite aggressively in the eyes of the public, but they are basically friendly and courteous personnel.
—Spokesman for the martial law administrator Col. Ditya Soedarsono27
We are not crying. Our tears are already all dried up. We cannot even cry anymore with the trauma that we experience today, every day in Aceh.
—Forty-two-year old Acehnese man28
The start of the Indonesian military campaign in Aceh in May was marked by a heavy show of force, with the Indonesian military showing off their best troops and equipment before the world’s press. The sonic booms and aerial displays of the Indonesian air force may have been for show, but they also heralded the deployment of an estimated 28,000 troops and 12,000 police tasked with “crushing” GAM.
The build-up to the campaign was evident before the official declaration of martial law. As a former student activist, who left Aceh two weeks before martial law began, told Human Rights Watch:
It was already clear what would happen. I was going from Aceh to Medan on a minibus. There were already lots of TNI. My bus had to wait twenty minutes for an army convoy of thirty-five trucks to pass, heading west . . . At checkpoints they checked bags, ID cards, destinations. Two people were detained from the bus: one at Alue Ie Puteh in North Aceh, the other, a twenty-five-year-old man, in Langsa [East Aceh]. . . I telephoned home on October 5 and TNI near my house have gone from one post to three posts––we’re near the mountains.
A twenty-five-year-old man, who had returned to Aceh from Malaysia in March when the Cessation of Hostilities Framework Agreement was in force, described his efforts to leave the province:
I came here [Malaysia] when things first exploded, in 1998. In March 2003, I went home voluntarily. It was a little safe during that period. I hoped to stay six months, but after three months, martial law came. At that time I was in Samalanga subdistrict, Bireun district. The day that [President] Megawati announced martial law was official . . . TNI came into Aceh. Those from the ocean from the ocean, those from the sky, from the sky. Six combat jets went overhead. I was harvesting rice. The next morning there was the sound of bullets and explosions. People said in Samalanga there were tanks, amphibious vehicles, bullets in the rice paddies. TNI came looking for GAM. But we told them there was no GAM there––the dead were just cows and chickens.29
A man from Central Aceh who arrived in Malaysia in early August told Human Rights Watch:
I left Aceh because there is daily fighting and gunfire between the TNI and GAM all over Aceh. I can hear it from my village. So many things have happened. My friends have been beaten by the military. Many have been threatened. I cannot live in Aceh anymore. The trauma is too much, wondering if I am going to live or die.30
Days after the declaration of martial law the military brought heavy artillery into position to attack rebel bases, as more than 21,000 civilians fled their homes.31 Operations included extensive patrols and “sweepings,” tactics designed to identify separatists or their supporters through vehicle searches, document checks, and the systematic searches of one village after another.32
In late July, military officials announced some alterations to the strategy, including smaller units deployed in the largely unsuccessful search for GAM leadership; more joint military and police patrols to restrict the movement of GAM fighters; intensification of intelligence operations; and increased nighttime operations, supposedly to reduce civilian casualties.
The influx of troops was not solely for combat operations against GAM forces in the mountains and forests. Nearly everyone interviewed by Human Rights Watch spoke about the new security posts erected by the TNI and Brimob since the beginning of martial law. Several sources explained that whereas previously troops might have come through the village once a week, contact between civilians and the military was now a daily event. As one woman who arrived from Pidie on October 25 explained:
It’s a conflict there, in all the hamlets. The security forces live there now. They built posts right in the village, especially if the village is on the edge of the mountains like ours. It used to be they would spend a week in the mountains, then come down for two days to take food and rest, before going up again . . . until a month ago, when they built a post in the village, one group, about thirty soldiers, I think Rajawali.”33
The sharp rise in human rights violations since martial law started may in part be attributed to this increase in daily contact between soldiers and villagers. The increased village presence apparently aims to limit the material and moral support of the local population for GAM and the ability of GAM to take refuge in villages and engage in recruitment.
A twenty-five-year-old who left South Aceh one week after martial law began explained:
From day one of martial law my wife and family told me to go . . . They’re “trigger happy” (suka-suka tembak), whether we do anything wrong or not. They kill us like ants. The soldiers are afraid to go into the mountains. From day one there was a new feeling, with military posts every two kilometers.34
One man who left Aceh on October 5 explained:
I left Aceh because the security has decreased, because we are traumatized. Our friends are dying as a result of the conflict. The TNI are looking for GAM, if GAM is not found they attack the community. The TNI would often enter the village. If we don’t know where GAM is we are beaten. I was beaten twice . . . There has been no GAM in my village since martial law started.35
The TNI have gone America, to Europe, to Thailand and said that they are securing Aceh. They are not securing Aceh, they have come to just kill us.
—Thirty-year-old year-old Acehnese woman36
A common tactic of Indonesian security forces is house-to-house searches for GAM members, weapons and ammunition, and information about any young men who have left the village. The presumption is that young men who have left the village have joined GAM. But those young men who remain in the village are often targeted as suspected GAM sympathizers. To be young and male in Aceh is to be regarded with suspicion and to be at risk.
In some cases house-to-house searches are accompanied by physical violence. One young man estimated that security forces had been to his house five times before he left the province, assaulting him each time.37 A thirty-five-year-old who arrived in Malaysia in October from Peuruelak, East Aceh explained:
Under martial law the house is often visited. They ask, “Where are the men?” I don’t dare stay at home. They come three times a week, tens of times already. They say “You’re GAM!” I tell them, “I’m a civilian (orang biasa)!” They hit and kick. I want to go home for the holidays, but my family says not to.38
A man who fled North Aceh to Malaysia in June told Human Rights Watch:
In Aceh the TNI suspect all young men of being GAM. Every day in Aceh I have to report at the TNI office so they can check that I have not left to go and join GAM. The office is in my village, but only since martial law started.39
Another man told Human Rights Watch why he came to Malaysia:
The rest of my family stayed. I am male and so I am suspected of being GAM. I am an only child, my parents are in Pidie. Every day there is fighting between GAM and TNI. They come into the village. If the TNI do not find GAM we, the people, are attacked for being GAM. Battalion 113, Rajawali [task force] come into the village … On August 17 [Indonesian Independence Day] TNI entered the village looking for GAM. At about 8:00 a.m. about twenty soldiers, one company. They didn’t find them so they hit me. They then forced people to join in the Independence Day celebrations.40
One man from Pidie told Human Rights Watch about an assault by members of the Rajawali Taskforce on the younger residents of the village:
Less than a week after [Indonesian Independence Day] everyone was told to gather at the meunasah [prayer house], because there was going to be an operation in the mountains. They were summoned at 5:00 a.m., before they were awake, through the village head using a microphone. They were separated into men, women, and young people. More than a hundred people were there from the villages of [names omitted] all in Mila subdistrict. The young group had about thirty people, and they were taken to the schoolyard next door. They were from grade school up to age thirty-six. I was nearby at the coffee stall, since people around the subdistrict military command post weren’t forced to join. I heard them asking the youths about GAM and hitting them. The soldiers were from Rajawali. Eventually the young people were allowed to go home, but ten had to go to the hospital, some of them with internal injuries. There were about forty soldiers. The other two groups weren't beaten, but some parents fainted because of what was happening to their young children. After that, all the young men left for Banda Aceh, Medan, Kuala Lumpur.41
27 “TNI plans to restructure troop deployment in Aceh,” The Jakarta Post, July 26, 2003.
28 Human Rights Watch interview with forty-two-year-old man [name withheld], Malaysia, November 5, 2003.
29 Human Rights Watch interview with twenty-five-year-old man [name withheld] October 28, 2003, Malaysia.
30 Human Rights Watch interview with fifty-seven-year-old man [name withheld], Malaysia, October 24, 2003.
31 “Indonesia Moves Troops, Equipment To Battle Aceh Rebels,” Associated Press, May 26, 2003.
32 Dean Yates, “Indonesia steps up Aceh campaign against rebels,” Reuters, May 26, 2003. Even Indonesian speakers often use the English term “sweepings”.
33 Human Rights Watch interview with woman in her thirties [name withheld] Malaysia, October 27, 2003.
34 Human Rights Watch interview with twenty-five-year-old man [name withheld], Malaysia, October 26, 2003.
35 Human Rights Watch interview with twenty-one-year-old man [name withheld], Malaysia, October 23, 2003.
36 Human Rights Watch interview [name withheld], Malaysia, October 26, 2003.
37 Human Rights Watch interview with eighteen-year-old Acehnese man [name withheld], Malaysia, October 28, 2003.
38 Human Rights Watch interview with thirty-five-year-old man, [name withheld], Malaysia, October 28, 2003.
39 Human Rights Watch interview with twenty-two-year-old man [name withheld], Malaysia, October 26, 2003.
40 Human Rights Watch interview with nineteen-year-old man [name withheld], Malaysia, October 23, 2003.
41 Human Rights Watch interview, with forty-year-old man [name withheld], Malaysia, October 29, 2003.