Aceh rebels ‘no longer a threat’

Separatists now more like a mafia gang extorting money from illegal Acehnese workers in Malaysia, says Aceh’s military commander

THE Indonesian armed forces (Abri) said yesterday the secessionist group in the north-western province of Aceh no longer posed a significant political threat and had turned into a mafia-type outfit extorting money from illegal workers in Malaysia.

Aceh’s military commander, Colonel Dasiri, said Abri had eliminated most of the group’s strongholds in the last few years so that “it no longer had a hold on the hearts and minds of the people”.

“They no longer have a hold on a younger generation of Indonesians in Aceh who are concerned with economic development,” he told The Straits Times in an interview.

“The GPK ideas are all outdated,” he added.

GPK refers to Gerakan Pengacau Keamanan which refers to any movement that threatens security.

The separatist Free Aceh Movement, now based in Sweden, claims the province was forced to become part of Indonesia without a plebiscite or a referendum.

In 1976, the separatists declared independence.

Since then, the group, some of whose cadres were reportedly trained in Libya, has considered itself to be at war with Indonesian security forces.

At the height of clashes in the early 90s, fighting was particularly active in the coastal areas of the province with the rebels attacking police and military posts.

They also targeted Javanese transmigrants.

Col Dasiri, who heads two infantry battalions numbering 600 personnel, maintained that Abri’s security-alert status in Aceh, which has a population of 3.5 million, was at “level three” or “normal” over the last year.

“That is an indication of how we view the problem now,” he said.

He declined to comment on where and how strong the Acehnese separatists were but indicated that the military had decimated the group leaving few cadres and sympathisers.

In the mid-90s, the group was estimated to number 1,000 cadres but Col Dasiri downplayed such large numbers in Aceh.

He said the focus of the military was now on the activities of the group’s six leaders based in Sweden and Malaysia, who were known to provide funds for the rebels.

He said the movement was largely responsible for instigating illegal Acehnese workers in Malaysia to clash with the police there last month.

Rumours were circulated to scare the workers that they would be shot by Abri personnel should they be repatriated to Indonesia.

“When the first ship came into port two weeks ago, these workers were so scared that we would kill them,” he said, adding that they were now “at ease” with the authorities after having gone through a military-administered rehabilitation programme.

He disclosed that many of them had complained that some of the group’s cadres in Malaysia had demanded “protection money” to ensure that the workers did not return to Indonesia.

Said Col Dasiri: “These people were duped by the GPK which was out to make money from their misfortunes. It was all a very mafia-type operation involving threats and extortion.”

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