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a time for fear
Wednesday, June 25, 2003  
Bad Scene in Indonesia

Things are hot and heavy in Indonesia as the largest military operation since the invasion of East Timor in '75 continues apace against rebels in Aceh.

This all began in 1976 when the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) announced itself by demanding an independent Islamic State. By '89 the movement had found its feet with the return of GAM fighters from training in Libya, which led to military rule in Aceh under the Suharto regime throughout the 90s, with the death of 2000 civilians. Last December a ceasefire agreement was supposedly reached, but this had broken down comprehensively by April for various absurd and complicated reasons. In may, last-ditch peace talks collapsed in Tokyo, probably not helped by Jakarta's demand that GAM unconditionally disarm, accept Indonesian rule and just generally stop harping on about independence. Meanwhile, throughout the talks the Indonesian army openly prepared themselves for armed conflict. So, on May 20, Jakarta sent 13 Hawk jets into Aceh, and resumed conflict. Then on Monday they deployed 36 Scorpion tanks to the region and a mass of troops (Guardian 24.6.03).

Hawks, Scorpians...that's our kit, 100% Made In Britain hardware. Aceh will soon be feeling the brute force of British industry. This all dates back to a deal brokered by the Conservative Party just before New Labour's '96 election victory, and Robin Cook's doomed 'ethical foreign policy'. Indonesia was the first nail in the coffin of that, although Cook tried his best to reverse the deal in the law courts. "Ha!" said the Tories, "ethical foreign policy indeed! Yeah, right! Try that in the real world." "Shut up, you bastards," replied Cook, "this is all your fault." The deal was made with some (crucially non-binding) assurance on the part of the Indonesians that they would not use their new toys to the end of internal repression. Now they play New Labour newspeak beautifully. "We're not using this stuff for internal repression", they assure an anxious British cabinet and human rights groups the world over, "but we will be using it offensively."

So the massacres have already begun, with more to come. Don't expect too much Western intervention if things get really nasty, either, because the joker in the pack is a load of natural gas fields that are tapped by US oil giant ExxonMobil, which GAM would need to build a new independent Aceh, something that ExxonMobile, the White House, and just about everyone would baulk at. The battle numbers go something like this - Indonesian troops: 26,000; GAM guerillas: 5000. The majority of GAM rebels are, in fact, far from the Libyan-trained terror fighters of the late 80s/early 90s, and more like gangs of teenagers and young men living it up on bikes, with rifles strapped around their chests, playing out some warped Che Guevara-meets-Islam fantasy. So in this microscopic bedlam whole lines of geopolitical and economic catastrophe cut across each other: international trade agreements, independent business interest, religious ideology, micronationalist autonomy, internal State power, local counterinsurgency, cultural fantasy, and etc. down the scale, and back up again.

11:23 AM

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