Wave after Wave

December 31, 2004

We had CNN on most of the past few days, and it's amazing to me that with all of the reports coming in from Aceh, none mention the 30 year civil war there.

A few years ago I wrote a story about the collision of big petroleum interests, the Indonesian military and the separatist movement based in Aceh. Here's the rough summary: Aceh has been wanting independence from Indonesia ever since it was colonialized by the Dutch. It happened to have huge natural gas reserves and so a joint company between Mobil Oil and Pertamina, the Indonesian national oil company, was formed. As in so many of these scenarios, all of the profits go straight to the central government and the locals are left with pollution and subsistance farming and --here's the rub-- the Indonesian military that is ostensibly "protecting" the gas plants.

The Indonesian military is corrupt, to say the least. Since the government doesn't fully provide its operational budget, it is left to create enterprises to make up the shortfall --and it does, in the form of shakedowns, brothels, and other illegal operations. The Free Aceh Movement, GAM, has been conducting guerilla style tactics for the last thirty years; the military retaliates by terrorizing villagers, disappearing possible insurgents, and in general making a bad name for itself. Think mass graves, villages abandoned in fear, babies burned to death, and other such unspeakable horror and you get the picture of what Acehnese have been living with for decades.

Mobil oil has been sued in U.S. courts for collusion with the military --providing arms and equipment and knowingly supporting a military accused of torture and murder. Fighting continues to this day.

Add to this an earthquake and tsunami, and you can only imagine the chaos that is still going on. My sources say that the fighting continues in spite of the devastation, and not all of the deaths in recent days can be blamed on the natural disaster.

Even without the war, the death toll is mounting like mad. One official estimated that the body count in Aceh alone might go as high as 100,000 and it will take at least two weeks for NGOs get the manpower and equipment necessary to commence organized aid.

At least NGOs and reporters have been allowed in --for a while foreign aid and journalists were virtually banned, and then strictly controlled. I only hope that with the spotlight of the world on the region, people start reporting on the strife that has plagued the region for far longer than this catastrophe.

In the meantime, we in our cozy, toast-filled worlds would do well to help those living under tarp and fear.
International Medical Corp is concentrating efforts in Aceh, and they could use your cash very well. A very extensive list of other NGOs is here.

PS: my apologies for missing my blogging day --I was playing in the snow.