FREE ACEH MOVEMENT
REBELS in Aceh spent the best part of 30 years fighting for independence from Indonesia – and the epic battle saw a lot of bloodshed!
The fall-out dates back to 1949, when territory governed by the Netherlands was brought together to form the Republic Of Indonesia.
The Kingdom Of Aceh had never belonged to the Dutch, so when it was incorporated in the new republic it serioiusly pissed off many residents.
Out of that anger rose the Free Aceh Movement, AKA Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), founded in 1976 by Hasan di Tiro, a descendant of the last sultan of Aceh.
Over the next three decades, between 15,000 and 20,000 people were killed as the fierce rebels launched three major attempts to win their freedom.
With 150 rebels on board, the group’s first efforts at gaining power saw Di Tiro bid on a contract to build a gas pipeline to the Exxon Mobil plant.
But Indonesian President Suharto’s anti-communist stance during the Cold War had won him the backing of the US – and by 1977 GAM had all but gone.
When the group reconvened in 1989, it boasted around 1,000 highly-skilled soldiers after financial support from Libya and Iran had funded training overseas.
The Indonesian military responded by locking Aceh down, setting fire to villages and kidnapping and torturing suspected rebels and their relatives.
According to reports, the military operation included 7,000 human rights abuses and resulted in the killing of suspected informants by GAM leaders.
Indonesia announced GAM’s demise in 1996, but the fall of Suharto in 1998 and the decision of his successor, President Habbie, to withdraw troops from Aceh gave rise to one final uprising.
A younger, more heavily-armed unit forced Habbie to re-deploy troops to the province and, by 2002, there were around 50,000 soldiers and police in Aceh.
Security crackdowns reportedly caused several thousand civilian deaths.
In 2005, GAM agreed to remove its military wing in favour of establishing a political party, which continues to operate.