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DATE=11/17/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=ACEH VS EAST TIMOR NUMBER=5-44782 BYLINE=STEPHANIE MANN DATELINE=WASHINGTON INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Less than three months after the people of East Timor voted to separate from Indonesia, the new Indonesian president is considering holding another referendum to determine the future status of another troubled province. But Stephanie Mann reports the case of Aceh has some marked differences from the situation in East Timor. TEXT: East Timor, which is going through a U-N- supervised transition to independence, was a Portuguese colony until 1974. It became an Indonesian territory only after the Indonesian Army invaded it in 1975. Its people are predominantly Catholic and speak Portuguese, and they never considered themselves Indonesian. The history of Aceh, located on the northern tip of Sumatra, contrasts sharply with that of East Timor. For centuries, Aceh was an independent sultanate (or kingdom). It is relatively sparsely populated, with four million people who are ethnically homogenous and, for the most part, devout Muslims. After Netherlands conquered the Indonesian archipelago in the late 19th century, Aceh became part of what was called the Dutch East Indies. When the Dutch East Indies fought for independence from the Netherlands, Acehnese were enthusiastic participants in the rebellion. Bill Liddle is an Indonesia specialist at Ohio State University. /// LIDDLE ACT ONE /// The Acehnese themselves say that what they did was to contribute more than almost any other province to starting the Republic of Indonesia. They took a collection of gold. They bought an airplane for the new republic, and so forth. This was in 1945, when the Republic of Indonesia was declared and the Acehnese were a part of that. /// END ACT /// Professor Liddle says the Acehnese rebellion against Jakarta began in the early 1950's, when the new Indonesian government under President Sukarno reduced Aceh's status from that of a province to being part of the province of North Sumatra. Mr. Liddle says President Sukarno changed his mind in the late 1950's. /// LIDDLE ACT TWO /// At that time, there was an agreement that the Acehnese could have their province and they could also have considerable autonomy to determine local affairs. But that got swept aside by the Sukarno government in the 1960's and later on by the Suharto government. So, in the minds of the Acehnese, there is a kind of continual history of Jakarta's making promises and not keeping those promises. /// END ACT /// Like Professor Liddle, political science professor Daniel Lev of the University of Washington says Acehnese came to believe they could not trust the government in Jakarta. Professor Lev also says the situation in Aceh further deteriorated when political power became highly centralized in Jakarta. /// LEV ACT ONE /// What most influenced the situation in Aceh came after the coup at the end of 1965, when thereafter the Indonesian military became the predominant force in politics. . And President Suharto was inclined to permit the military to manage problems in its own way. . And the more force that was brought to bear in places like Aceh, the more local people resented what was happening. /// END ACT /// Professor Lev, a specialist on Southeast Asian politics, says after 1989 Aceh was declared a "zone of military operations" as the army tried to repress the Acehnese rebellion. He says that in the ten years since the army's authority was firmly established in the region, there have been a large number of murders and other atrocities. The people of Aceh and East Timor share a sense of outrage at the way they have been treated by the Indonesian Army. They also share a resentment of the national government's policy of transmigration, which gave residents of densely populated Java incentives to move to outlying regions. But unlike East Timor, Aceh is important to Indonesia's economic prosperity. Aceh accounts for two percent of Indonesia's population but provides about 13 percent of the country's revenues. For example, Indonesia is the world's leading exporter of liquified natural gas, and one third of that gas comes from Aceh. Professor Lev says Acehnese have long complained that the Jakarta government was absorbing more than its share of the revenues from Aceh's resources. /// BEGIN OPT /// /// LEV ACT TWO /// Oil and liquid natural gas in Aceh were used for the profit basically not only of Jakarta, but of those working out of Jakarta and favored by Jakarta. And this meant the national oil company, Pertamina. It meant some other entrepreneurs. It also meant some Acehnese entrepreneurs who were favored by the regime in Jakarta. The thing is that Aceh as a whole did not greatly benefit from its resources, which were simply sucked away. /// END ACT /// In addition to oil and gas, Aceh has other valuable resources, including timber, gold and silver. /// END OPT /// The difference between Aceh and East Timor goes beyond history and the economy. Professor Bill Liddle says the two cases present potentially different consequences for the future of Indonesia. /// LIDDLE ACT THREE /// East Timor was the end of something. The separation, the independence of East Timor was the end of something - a long struggle between the ex-Portuguese colony of East Timor with the Indonesian government. But the separation or independence of Aceh is (would be) the beginning of something - the beginning of the dismemberment of Indonesia, I fear. /// END ACT /// However, Professor Liddle and other scholars are quick to add that the independence of Aceh has not yet been decided, and the government in Jakarta still has an opportunity to take some positive steps to prevent Aceh and other provinces from seeking independence - and causing the disintegration of Indonesia. (Signed) NEB/SMN/KL/gm 17-Nov-1999 11:57 AM EDT (17-Nov-1999 1657 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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