The Aceh Declassification Project

College of DuPage - Geography Department

Aceh came into the world spotlight with the tragic tsunami of 2004. Yet Aceh has been the site of a prolonged low-intensity conflict between the Indonesian military and the separatist group Aceh Merdeka. Human rights abuses abound:

Landler, Mark. "Indonesia Keeps Troops in Rioting Province." New York Times. 3 September 1998. P. A6.: "Last Month the Human Rights Commission dug up mass graves in Aceh that it said contained dozens of victims of Army killings. The commission estimated that more than 750 people had died at the hands of soldiers in the occupation of Aceh for the last nine years."

Document Collection

Document E1. "Rebellion in Aceh: An Assessment." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 21 December 1990. The rebellion in Aceh flared up in 1990. This cable describes Indonesian "sweeps with thousands of army reinforcements and the detention of suspected Acehnese activists and their sympathizers."

The separatist group, Aceh Merdeka, is headed by Hasan di Tiro, and "some of its cadres have received training in Libya." The separatists exploit "Acehnese separatism, Islamic radicalism, unemployment and other social-economic tensions, as well as basic economic grievances, including exploitation of Aceh's natural gas and forests by non-Acehnese."

"The principal U.S. interests in Aceh are the continued viability of Mobil's commerical relationship with the Indonesian National Petroleum Company and the welfare of approximately 250 American citizens, ninety percent of whom are associated with Mobil's multi-billion dollar investment at the natural gas-based Lhokseumawe industrial complex." The Indonesian military "has been most successful in suppressing Acehnese insurgents precisely in and around the Lhokseumawe industrial area."

Document E2. "Aceh: In for the Long Haul." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 12 September 1990. The conflict between the Acehnese separatists and the Indonesian Army "is likely to be long and brutal." An informant, who once described the rebellion as a "skin disease," now characterizes it as a "cancer."

Document E3. "Aceh: Americans Concerned but not Worried." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 01 August 1990. Summary of meeting between US Consul and US Citizens living in Aceh. Citizens worried the "could be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time." A Reuters report claimed 40 civilians and probably as many troops killed int eh last four months.

"The new round of violence probably began in March 1989, with the murder of two soldiers in Pidie...The movement appears to consist of village people mixed with [ex-Indonesian soldiers] and ex-police...The movement is focused in the north Aceh regency and has spread to Pidie where the people are 'more agressive, more politically-minded, and easily swayed against the government.'"

Document E4. "Aceh: Authorities Emphasize Efforts to Suppress Aceh Violence." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 24 July 1990. The Indonesian army has brought in reinforcements and started a major public relations campaign. "One of our interlocutors, in a detailed review of the situation, said the current Acehnese struggle may turn out to be more bitter and sustained than the 1977-82 Aceh Merdeka revolt." Aceh Merdeka now has the support of the Acehnese peasantry. Concern has been expressed that natural gas production could be interrupted by the revolt.

Document E5. "Update on Aceh Unrest." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 22 June 1990. Details a press briefing by the Acting Chief of the Information Section of Kodam I/BB. "Briefing officer announced that three civilians were shot by anti government forces," one died. Other incidents cited include the near-decapitation of an herbal medicine vendor, the shooting of a fisherman by gunmen on a motorbike, and the shooting of a school secretary. "An expat living in Sigli reported that he had heard of frequent, but isolated, attacks on members of the police and military since March."

Document E6. "Sumatra's Trade and Investment: Jakarta Incorporates the World's Sixth Largest Island." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 07 May 1990. An economic overview of Sumatra (the island on which Aceh is located). "mineral wealth, which until 1987 provided over half the value of Indonesia's exports, is nationally owned. Thus, Jakarta decides how to exploit Sumatran oil, natural gas, tin and coal, and reaps the profits...More sensitive issues are limited employment opportunities for ethnic Acehnese."

Document E7. "Riau: Boom Time in a Petro-Province." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 2 April 1990. Discusses the economic situation of Riau, on eastern Sumatra. Brief mention in Chinese smuggling of Aceh ganja.

Document E8. "North Aceh: Sparks in the Gas Fields." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 31 October 1989. "Sullen resentment has repeatedly flared into violence since March 1989 in north Aceh, home to a more than USD 5 billion natural gas-based industrial complex. Latest on the list of incidents are a riot, the murder of a soldier, and the fire bombing of a government complex...

Document E9. "Killing of Two Soldiers Linked to Anti-Ganja Campaign." From US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 31 May 1989. Two soldiers who had assisted in a recent eradication program "were ambushed and killed in Aceh's Pidie district...The dilemma for the army is whether to commit its troops on a regular basis to combat Aceh's largets ganja syndicate, which includes former-and perhaps current members of the Hasan Tiro rebellious movement in its leadership."

"The main U.S. interest in Aceh is natural gas exploration and LNG production by Mobil Oil in partnership with Pertamina, and the welfare of the 250 Americans living in the Lhokseumawe area where Mobil is based. Because Aceh is a devout Muslim land that occasionally produces fanatics, out of concern for the safety of these Americans in particular, we should avoid providing assistance that might be seen as collaborating in ganja erradication efforts there."

Document E10. "Police Conduct Large Anti-Ganja Operation in Aceh." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 31 March 1989. "Starting on March 22, the Indonesian police in Aceh have conducted one of their largest operations ever against ganja plantings...According to police estimates, the operation has resulted in the confiscation of 37.9 tons of ganja from 85 fields...Police destroyed a large five-hectare field they suspected that had been planted by members of the Hasan Tiro rebellious wing of Aceh Merdeka."

Document E11. "Update on Aceh Unrest." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 13 July 1990. "The level of violence in Aceh may have gradually escalated. Military and police personnel continue to be the chief targets of Acehnese rebel groups..."

"Newspapers reported the killing of seven people, including a soldier and a policeman...They were riding in a government plantation vehicle that was stopped and killed in a volley of gunfire." A State Department informant mentioned "reports of an Aceh Merdeka list, sent to ABRI [the Indonesian military] by Aceh Merdeka, of targets to be assassinated by Aceh Merdeka..."

Document E12. "Update on Aceh Unrest - June 14, 1990." From US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 15 June 1990. "Further scattered accounts of killings...A purported underground pamphlet...alleges a U.S.-backed Christian conspiracy to undermine Islam in Indonesia."

Document E13. "Update on Aceh Violence - June 8, 1990." From US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 8 June 1990. Discusses shooting of an Indonesian professor's car, attempt to raid a military weapons supply, and a failed raid on a police installation.

Document E14. "Search for Assassins of Police in Aceh." From US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to US Embassy, Jakarta, Indonesia. 29 September 1989. A police officer was gunned down on September 26. "The Indonesian army has blocked the roads from Langsa to Lhokseumawe in Ache...all cars are being stopped and searched." Concern expressed by local sources that "small groups of radicals may attempt to disrupt Pope's visit to Medan."

Document E15. "Army Unleashes Campaign to Find Soldiers' Assailants." Cable fro US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 1 June 1989. "In response to the killing of two soldiers, 500 army troops have been deployed in the Tiro subdistrict of Aceh Pidie to try to find those responsible. About 50 people have been detained for questioning. Some have been beaten in efforts to obtain information...Unrest that has been occurring is primarily due to a resurgence of the Hasan Tiro separatist movement."

Document E16. "Incidents of Unrest in North Aceh." Cable from US Consulate, Medan, Indonesia to Secretary of State. 6 April 1989. "Over the past month, there have seen several incidents of unrest in north Aceh...Masked arsonists burned a sugarcane field. Electronic power lines have been short-circuited, causing chronic blackouts, due to what the local power company chief has labelled acts of 'sabotage.' Spontaneous flare-ups are common among Aceh's easily provoked Muslims."

This page last updated 28 October 2005. Maintained by Keith Yearman, Assistant Professor of Geography.




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