'Aceh has buried special autonomy, sharia law'

Amid the ongoing military operation to quell the armed rebellion in Aceh, it is very difficult to meet with GAM leaders. Ishak Daud, GAM Commander for East Aceh gave an exclusive interview to The Jakarta Post's Tiarma Siboro at his base camp in an undisclosed area in the province recently.

Question: Why are the Acehnese people not interested in special autonomy and sharia (Islamic law)?

Answer: Special autonomy and sharia are two things the Acehnese people demanded almost 60 years ago and most of those who aired those demands have already passed away, while the present generation has forgotten it since the government rejected it.

We commenced the struggle for independence when the government failed to fulfill its promise on the special autonomy to enable us to manage own affairs under our own authority.

More blood will likely spill in our own homeland because the Indonesian government wants our people to continue suffering. Now they are only demanding freedom and want to live in peace.

Please, stop the war, terror and intimidation to avoid more bloodshed and let them determine their own future. If Jakarta is confident that most Acehnese people are happy to be part of Indonesia why doesn't it hold a self-determination referendum.

Do you think that the Indonesian government has deceived the Acehnese people?

Yes, I do. History has noted that Aceh played an important role in fighting for Indonesia's freedom from Dutch rule and the British and Japanese occupation. Under the leadership of Teungku Daud Beureueh, Aceh stood behind the newly born Republic of Indonesia. The country's first President Sukarno even declared the province as a capital region of Indonesia.

Indeed, founding president Sukarno, the father of President Megawati Soekarnoputri, asked the Acehnese people to put aside a part of their income to contribute to the country's revolution in the 1940s to achieve advancements in all fields.

Unfortunately, Jakarta dissolved Aceh province in 1951 and put it under North Sumatra province with Medan as the provincial capital. It meant, there was no more autonomy for Aceh.

Even worse, Sukarno hit the Acehnese people's heart in 1953 when he said in his campaign for Papua's integration into Indonesia that Islam could not be taken as a state ideology for Indonesia.

When did the armed rebellion begin?

The Acehnese people took up arms against Indonesia in 1976 under the leadership of Hassan Tiro who at the time had just returned from his studies in the United States, in their resistance to the way the Indonesian government has mistreated Aceh.

Bloodshed has continued in our own land until today since tens of thousands of innocent people have been killed and imprisoned without trial.

GAM Commander Muzakkir Manaf and I were born during Tiro's dream (to free Aceh from Indonesia's occupation) and we are among thousands of people who have witnessed the Indonesian Military's repression of Aceh over the last three decades.

Do you think GAM will win the war?

From the military point of view, the war looks imbalanced as GAM has to face some 35,000 military personnel armed with sophisticated war machines. But it won't kill GAM and the independence spirit that has been internalized by all Acehnese people. GAM will continue to exist and we have won the hearts of the people.

Are you tired?

No, I'm not. I will never tire of fighting for our freedom and will continue to seek international recognition from democratic countries because we have sacrificed our lives to that extent ... you all know how many innocent people have been killed, our brothers, our families, our wives... and such actions will create only pseudo peace in the province.

When did you join GAM?

I joined GAM in 1986 while I was living in Singapore. I underwent paramilitary training in several foreign countries in 1988 and moved to Malaysia until the Malaysian authorities deported me in 1991. I returned home to face trial and prison. I am happy the struggle is still going on.

Where does GAM get its arms supply from?

We purchase guns from numerous parties, including certain individuals and overseas brokers.

How do you maintain communication with GAM leaders in-exile?

I open myself to everyone, even to soldiers who frequently contact me. We maintain telephone contact regularly to report on the latest developments in the war. So far there is no significant problem in communications with the exiled GAM leaders in Sweden. Every day our commander, Muzakkir Manaf, makes contact with GAM's political wing in Sweden. And the instruction is clear.

Maybe they (the military) are correct in saying that we (GAM) are currently disorganized. But in guerrilla warfare, the weaker party should step back before it moves to strike back.

* Published by The Jakarta Post, October 9, 2003