For those of you wondering if JMD is working near the area where two Indonesian military (TNI) officers were kidnapped and killed by separatists yesterday: yes and no. The incident occurred in Sawang, Aceh Utara district, which is next door and to the northwest of Aceh Timur. JMD currently works quite far from this area, but the incident is possibly and unfortunately part of a growing issue in these northern districts, where former combatants are still feeling the effects of being completely shut off from any benefits of the 2005 peace accord.
JMD has worked in the same location as the killings; I remember Sawang very well, and my years of dodging bullets. That area has been a hotbed of violence both during and after the conflict; there’s always been trouble there, always. Nur Salim, then head of BRA (the agency set up to address the needs of ex-combatants) asked JMD in 2006 to go to Sawang to see if we could provide some assistance the small village of Cot Calang. A women’s group called Lena—named after his wife—introduced us to the community. The area was notorious for kidnappings, robbery, extortion—you name it. But our mission as to serve those most in need, so that’s what we did. I went there with Dina, one of JMD’s program managers. I remember being given reason after reason by the women’s group and other community members to stay overnight, even though I had intended to travel back to Banda Aceh that night. No, no, you can’t go, there’s another meeting to go to; the women wanted to have dinner with you, no, please, just one more meeting, . . . until it was too late to go. This happened on another occasion to Dina as well. The reason for their stalling was that not 5 minutes away from me, World Bank official Adrian Morel was being kidnapped, and the village wanted to keep me away from that incident while it happened. Bobby Anderson of IOM was carjacked in Sawang . . . these things went on all the time in that area, and the community was, if not complicit, aware of everything that was about to happen. Pak Nur apologized to me later for that one. And the Chief of police wanted to assign us a “security detail,” which we flatly refused. And we were soon back again in Aceh Utara, doing among other things a goat fattening project that had been awarded to IRD, who was too afraid to go there so they gave JMD the funds and told us to go—JMD was the only agency that would work in that district at the time.
Sawang was the only place that JMD ever worked where anyone tried to threaten or extort money from us, and when it happened I just looked at the thug in charge and said “No way,” and told all our staff to leave. Fortunately the head of the village set the thug straight and we went back and completed the project without incident. JMD was always well-liked and respected there—but due to its constant security issues, no donor would ever fund more projects there. Even Aceh Timur is a tough sell.
What is different about this latest incident is that it involves the murder of TNI (Indonesian military) intelligence officers. Everyone in that area knows that kidnappings, carjackings, local violence—these things might get a mention in the paper but are considered commonplace. (Adrian Morel, after all, was released unharmed the following day.) But if a separatist group murders Indonesia military, they do so knowing that this will unleash the fury of Jakarta. This group, whether it is Din Minimi or some other faction, is directly provoking an attack on the Aceh provincial government, whom, you will recall, are those few ex-GAM who after the pace accord rose to top level positions, intentionally leaving the majority of their fellow combatants without jobs, security or hope for the future. As I wrote to President Clinton in 2012, and have been repeating it several times a year till everyone is sick of hearing it: Aceh’s downfall will be GAM against GAM, and nothing could make Jakarta happier.