Just about a year before the Tsunami struck, I wrote a post on Aceh, decrying human rights abuses in the region. A recent article in the Straits Times (sorry, no live link possible) made the point about how much the Acehnese have suffered:
This appalling disaster comes after more than a century of misery for the stoic people of this richly endowed region. Aceh has had only a few decades of peace since being invaded by the Dutch in 1873 with very little warning. Forty years of bitter resistance to Dutch occupation lost Aceh perhaps a fifth of its population and transformed it from one of South-east Asia’s more prosperous and strategically important centres to an embittered backwater.
Aceh was effectively under military occupation by the Dutch until 1942 and the Japanese until 1945. After a brief experience of running its own show in 1945 to 1951, it was again under military occupation in 1953 to 1962, during the Daud Beureu’eh rebellion, and in 1989 to 1998, when then president Suharto’s army sought to suppress the Aceh independence movement (GAM) of Hasan di Tiro. Still, GAM became very popular under democratic conditions after Suharto’s fall.
Finally, since May 2003, a military solution has again been attempted, and thousands more people have been killed in military offensives and punitive actions, without notably removing the core of resistance.
Throughout this emergency period, foreign journalists, aid workers and others have been excluded from the province, as the government sought to remove Aceh from international headlines.
Having suffered the brutal militarisation of its institutions and its society for over a century, now Aceh has been hit by a colossal natural disaster, the losses of which on a single day dwarf even the tens of thousands that the region has lost to warfare.
The article made the important point that it is vital that aid for the tsunami victims does not get passed through the Indonesian military.
Over the past 50 years it has killed and rendered homeless too many Acehnese for there to be trust between people and army. The carefully constructed reform legislation to give the widest possible autonomy to Aceh (the Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam or NAD law of 2001) has been completely vitiated by military control of all the levers of power since May 2003.
The need for the underfunded military to raise money from various business and protection rackets has ensured that little of Aceh’s wealth has yet benefited its people.
The foreign aid, in other words, must be delivered to the people who need it as directly as possible, without the mediation of the Indonesian military.
The author of the article points out that:
The Yudhoyono government has, to its credit, declared open access to Aceh for international aid givers. This runs counter to the instincts of the local military, and again the international community will need to be clear about permanently full access, not just for aid givers, but for the journalists who will sustain global interest in the problem.
Some local NGOs working to give support to Aceh are:
A worker at Aceh Aid has a blog.
(Thanks to Matt for the article and the first two links, and to Mike for the last two links.)