WASHINGTON, D.C.—In the last few days there have been accusations that the Indonesian military has used the tsunami disaster as a means to further crush a long-running rebellion, denying food and aid to rebel groups. The devastated Aceh province is under virtual martial law.
Aceh is the center of the struggle, dating back to the 1970s, by local groups who want independence from Indonesia. The region, an ancient kingdom which once included much of Malaysia, actually predates Indonesia; after the struggle against the Dutch colonialists following World War II, Aceh came together with the other islands that make up Indonesia, with the understanding that it would keep considerable autonomy. But the central government wasted no time in encroaching on Aceh. Jakarta wants to hold on because the region is so rich in natural resources, especially oil and gas.
The financial linchpin of the Aceh province is Exxon Mobil. Its large liquefied-natural-gas plant there is the base of the region’s economy and provides gas to customers throughout Asia.
Now the region has been plunged into chaos. Allan Nairn, the American activist and journalist who has been active in the independence struggle in East Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia, this week told Seven Oaks, a magazine based in British Columbia, that the Indonesian military, which is supposedly doling out aid to devastated communities, is in fact using the earthquake as a pretext for attacking villages away from the coast in East and North Aceh.
“The military is also impeding the flow of aid,” said Nairn. “They’ve commandeered a hangar at the Banda Aceh airport, where they are taking control of internationally shipped-in supplies. We just got a report that the distribution of supplies is being done in some towns and villages only to people who hold the ‘red and white,’ which is a special ID card issued to Acehnese by the Indonesian police. You have to go to a police station to get one of these ID cards, and it is only issued to people who the police certify as not being opponents of the army, not being critics of the government. Of course many people are afraid to go and apply for such a card.
“There’s been a tremendous outpouring from the
public; all over the world people are giving donations,” Nairn continued. “But most of these donations are being channeled through the U.N.agencies or through the big mainstream charities. There’s a major problem. Those agencies and charities all have contracts with the Indonesian government, contracts which oblige them to either channel funds through the government or work in concert with the government, which means that government officials and army officers can steal the aid, and there are already indications that this is happening. And even that aid which is not stolen may be used in a way to consolidate military control over the population.”
For Exxon Mobil, the tsunami wasn’t a great hindrance to operations. The company reported only a “minor disruption.” More generally, times are good. Company revenue for the first nine months of 2004 stood at $214.67 billion, up from $180.79 billion a year ago. Profits were up 39 percent.
After the disaster, Exxon Mobil announced that, together with its employees, it would be making a $5 million donation to help tsunami victims.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 28, 2004