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Aceh students call for a Referendum

Waspada - January 15, 1999 (Slightly abridged)

Hundreds of students demonstrated outside the Aceh regional assembly – DPRD – calling for a referendum expressing their deep disappointment with the central government's failure to call human rights violators in Aceh to account.

During the demonstration which was attended by students from IAIN Ar Raniry, the state university Unsyiah and a number of private universities and colleges, the students destroyed the front door of the assembly building and damaged the interiors of several rooms.

The 500 demonstrating students expressed their disappointment with the assembly for failing to reflect the aspirations of the majority of people in the province of Aceh.

Demands for action to be taken against the perpetrators of human rights abuses that occured during DOM have been made repeatedly since the era of reform began but nothing whatever has happened. To this day, no action has been taken on the part of the government to bring to trial the military personnel who murdered, tortured and raped Acehnese, and committed other brutalities.

A statement read out by Tarmizi, coordinator of the action, said that the long-drawn-out problems in Aceh cannot be resolved by the Indonesian Government because of all the political conspiracies which invariably favour the central government.

The students' spokesman said that for the past few decades, the people of Aceh have been a soft target for the power-holders while the people have done what they could to defend their rights.'The Acehnese now say that we have had enough because our demands have never been met by the government of the republic.'

The statement went on to say that the abuses perpetrated by the military during the years of DOM and the Red-Net Operation (1989-1990) had wounded the people of Aceh deeply and had wounded the dignity of Muslims around the world. There had been thousands of casualities yet the central government had never taken a stand on the matter. The result is that many people at the grassroots had become involved in riots and there had been splits within the ranks of the Acehnese elite.

Now things have got even worse with the launch of Operasi Wibawa '99 which is using similar methods as DOM, resulting in yet more casualties. The republic's power-holders have betrayed the Acehnese people's loyalty towards the Republic of Indonesia and regarded everything we do with suspicion, the statement said.

These bitter facts have compelled the people of Aceh to adopt a firm attitude towards the Republic of Indonesia. Speaking on behalf of the Acehnese people, intellectuals on the campuses demand that the central government hold a referendum as quickly as possible to test the opinion of the people on whhether they wish to remain part of Indonesia or not, said Tarmizi.

At a meeting the day before with the regional military commander and high-ranking officials in the province, community leaders including religious teachers, university personalities, youth and students said 'Goodbye' to the Republic of Indonesia, giving vent to the same attitude.

In the past few days, Waspada's own investigations show that the question of a referendum has been the central talking-point everywhere in the province.

The student demonstration at the assembly building lasted about three hours after which the demonstrators dispersed, leaving behind a number of posters and banners calling for a referendum. Neither the chairman nor the deputy chairman of the assembly was in the building at the time.