Malaysia - no tsunami aid for Banda Aceh for fear of being suspected of aiding Islamic separatists?

(article published on behalf of guest contributor Anna)

Banda Aceh (pronounced bAnda-aCHeh) - the mainly muslim North-West Indonesian province suffered some of the heaviest losses in the late december tsunami, and was threatened with further losses by it's aftershocks, the latest of which - a 6.2 earthquake on February 9th. For a long time relief work was restricted by GAM (Free Acheh Movement) Rebels, who have been fighting for independence for the last 30 years . [The Aceh region produces about 70% of Indonesia's oil, and they get next to nothing out of it. Click here for full background]. Though it has been said that the tsunami helped step up peace talks between two parties, a complete resolution is far away - the next round of of talks has been scheduled for April 12th of this year.

Until then, the area must depend on the relief work of independent NGOs, because governments like that of Malaysia are reluctant to be associated with aiding Islamic separatists.

One of my few friends who transcend the online/offline barrier had been working with Simple Wisdom, for the past two months. It's a relief agency based in Sri Lanka that in it's own small way helps put the country back on its feet, not via relief supplies that are already in abundance, but by rebuilding the businesses in affected areas. When he told me their project leader is coming down to Malaysia in a few months, I pledged to do everything I can to help them spread their message.

With this in mind, I approached a lecturer in my univeristy who has been involved with Aceh relief work over the holidays, thinking this would be right up his alley.

He was excited. A little too excited:

My university is an small sister campus of about 6 big Australian ones. Our Australian counterparts have been running a widespread programme in tsunami relief, which a specific emphasis on Banda Aceh. [Probably because there is a sizeable community of Indonesian intellectuals residing and teaching in Australia.] There are many ongoing exchange programmes, and scholarships offered to Aceh victims.

The Pro Vice Chancellor of our campus is on the relief committee.

So why didn't anyone on my campus lift a finger these last two months? And how would organizing an awareness campaign about relief in Sri Lanka affect relief in the Aceh region?

Apparently our PVC is reluctant to promote aid on an issue the Malaysian government is undecided on. Which means no one can campaign for the Aceh with university support, but we can and should campaign for the Sri Lankans, and hope that it will get the ball rolling and throw Banda Aceh back into the equation.

Why is there this need for complicated 'politics'?

Because so many of the illegal immigrants in Malaysia are, and for the last two or three decades have been, the Aceh - Malaysia is pretty anxious to get rid of them. But the Malaysian government knows that a state of civil emergency had been declared in Aceh, and it knows the region was devastated by the tsunami, so there's hardly any hope of them returning to their homes. The only way to get them out of the country, it seems, is to help them.

Somewhere in the middle of last year, a small group of us had a semi-formal discussion with a few Acehnese immigrants in Malaysia [still illegal]. "It's not like we don't want to go home," they told us. "It's not like we want to stay here, always afraid the police is going to find our refugee camps and beat us up. It's not like we really wanted to take our small boats [and sometimes flimsy rafts] all the way from Aceh to the Malaysian coast, across the straits of Malacca, through rough weather and bad seas. We didn't have a choice."

They told us, that because of GAM, the rest of the peaceful Aceh had been abused by the Indonesian military for decades: they were mudered and abused, and no longer considered neither true muslims, nor true citizens. Because of a small band of exremists with guns, the Aceh had been personas non grata in Indonesia for the last 30 years.

And with most of their homes wiped out anyway, I can't imagine what kind of choice they would have now.

But Malaysia remains on the fence, refusing to help the Aceh both in their own homes, and living hidden all over this part of Malaysia. The most they have done is encourage the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the Islamic development Bank (IDB) to pledge RM551 million (about US120 million) to Aceh children and orphans.

Don't get me wrong, this is a huge amount to be spent, and a very worthy cause. I am GLAD they are finally doing something. The children should have been the first to be helped a long time ago.

But they are not the only ones affected. Like Simple Wisdom in Sri Lanka, things need to be done to help the surviving adults get back on their feet. They need homes, they need jobs, they need safety and security.

So why does Malaysia refuse to get its hands dirty? Why doesn't Malaysia grant the Aceh refugee status, and send out people to help rebuild the infrastructure? Why isn't the OIC the first to aid fellow muslims?

Is the answer really fear? Fear and reluctance to be suspected of helping separatists? Of helping a group of muslims because their uncalled for representatives are dangerously close to being labeled as [yes, I'm using the big bad T word] Terrorists!

What ever happened to common sense? To humanity?


Goodness, Anna, I confess to total ignorance of what goes on in this part of the world. I'm going through the many links you offer in order to learn something, and hope to be able to then make a meaningful comment :-) 

Posted by WhyNot
2/28/2005 09:21:00 pm  
that's kind of the point of me here isn't it? :) 

Posted by anna.
2/28/2005 09:43:00 pm  
"that's kind of the point of me here isn't it? ",

Precisely, Anna. Just bear with us, mostly ignorant of what goes on in your part of the world, while we do our research and learn something.

In the meantime, please feel free to flood this group with Asian affairs - I'm personally getting bored talking about Bush and the US.

Go girl! 

Posted by WhyNot
2/28/2005 10:06:00 pm  
What I've always found funny is how little people actually know about anything that goes on outside their four walls, and how much they then claim to understand about it. This isn't directed to any nation or religion, but by nature mankind seems to be generally like that.

So I can't help but smile when I see bloggers writing about, say, middle eastern conflicts with the assurance of something that happened to their neighbour, when I live here and I'm still not quite sure what's going on.

What the media tells you and what's actually happening are kind usually of very different things. Though some people on the "other side" don't believe me. :) 

Posted by anna.
3/01/2005 06:25:00 am  
"....GAM (Free Acheh Movement) Rebels, who have been fighting for independence for the last 30 years . [The Aceh region produces about 70% of Indonesia's oil, and they get next to nothing out of it. "

I'm looking at all your links now, Anna. This statement from your article pops out for me when considering your questions. 

Posted by Dianne
3/01/2005 08:25:00 am  
Anna, I'm still trying to get my geography right, so I'm going to ask a REALLY dumb question here.

I went through all your links, and in all the BBC ones, there are various simplified maps. In the end, I grabbed the atlas off our bookshelf as well as googling around for maps of the area, and here is what I understand:

Indonesia is the strip of islands which starts at the north western end with Sumatra and ends at the estern end with Timor.

Is this correct? 

Posted by WhyNot
3/01/2005 10:18:00 am  
It's ok. I confess I don't know where most European countries are relative to one another.

And, uh, actually that's not exactly right. Indonesia stretches all the way from Sumatra, which is just below Thailand and Malaysioa to Papua New Guineana. Banda Aceh is on the extreme left.

here's a good map:


Posted by anna.
3/01/2005 12:13:00 pm  
"http://www.infoplease.com/atlas/country/indonesia.html  "

Oh I see. So it stretches further to the east and actually includes part of New Guinea? And as well, further up north and has part of the Borneo island too?

One of the reasons for my asking (aside from wishing to know where those country boundaries start and end) is what appears to my very ignorant mind as a parallel between Band Aceh and East Timor fights for independance.

Is there any comparison? If yes/no, can you give us some insight and understanding of what it really is like?

I was living in Oz at the time of [some] of the East Timor issues. Greg posted something not long ago about it, indicating things are far from being resolved. But while I spent many years in Oz, I never got to hear anything much about this region, in spite of it being just next door. Bali, oh yeah, plenty about it, but Indonesia and Malaysia, ..., there wouldn't be one Australian in a million who would know where to place them on the map. 

Posted by WhyNot
3/01/2005 12:47:00 pm  
"[yes, I'm using the big bad T word] Terrorists! "

Oh them guys. I thought Bush called then Tourists. 

Posted by WhyNot
3/01/2005 01:49:00 pm  
It is indeed very ironic that both conflicts started on the extreme ends of the country. I guess it all boils down to the mess that retracting colonial powers left in Asia.

Here's what happened in Timor:

"The process of decolonisation in the then Portuguese Timor began in 1974, following the change of government in Portugal in the wake of the Carnation Revolution. Owing to political instability and more pressing concerns with decolonisation in Angola and Mozambique, Lisbon effectively abandoned East Timor, which unilaterally declared itself independent on November 28, 1975. Nine days later, it was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces before this could be internationally recognised."  full article here via Wikipedia .

Indonesia ruled the area by force, lots of people died over the years and then finally in 1999 with the help of the UN the East Timor people almost unanimously voted for their independence, which was granted to them in 2002 after more fighting.

If memory serves me right, the aceh territory was never really under anyone's influence in the last few centuries. They have a long history of resistance to occupation and colonial rule, therefore when the newly formed state of Indonesia sent in troops to annex the Aceh they weren't very happy. Then they were granted a special territory status, but some people were still unhappy about the tyrrany.

so,both territories Indonesia ruled by force, both wanted out, and I think the success of East Timor is what inspired the Aceh to act up in the last few years. 

What's interesting is that one can draw parallels between Indonesia and malaysia. But perhaps that's enough history for now... 

Posted by anna.
3/01/2005 03:06:00 pm  
What were Sumatra and Timor islands like before the Europeans turned up in the region and claimed it "theirs"? Were the Banda Aceh and East Timor provinces also occupied by Europeans or did they manage to escape from our greedy hands?

What I'm driving at is: are the conflicts in the 2 provinces a result of European imperialism (veni, vidi, vici, then left everything fucked up as usual)? 

Posted by WhyNot
3/01/2005 06:48:00 pm  
Well, your article is quickly moving down and I still haven't the foggiest idea what I can say to add to the discussion.
Common sense and humanity was lost for many when America set a precedent by invading a sovereign country against the wishes of the rest of the planet, then moved on to imprisonment without proof of guilt and torture in spite of Geneva Conventions. These acts continue. America stands uncorrected. George Bush was re-elected rather than punished for his crimes. He preens around Europe as if he has done no wrong. Something has gone terribly wrong with this planet.  

Posted by Dianne
3/01/2005 08:58:00 pm  
"What I'm driving at is:.... "

Oops, Blogger screwed up yet again, and for some reason you answer to my questions appears before them, LOL. 

Posted by WhyNot
3/01/2005 09:11:00 pm  
hmn the reason blogger does this is because we're in different timezones and the comments are arranged according to time posted without making an allowance for this.

but yeah blogger sucks :)

perhaps the conflicts are indirectly a result, because having been under colonial rule for so long the freshly independent state of indonesia would probably want to justify it's power in the world scene too...

but that's a shaky statement. the argument around here is that if not for the british/dutch/portuguese civilization (and high school textbooks continue to assert "democracy" lol) would not have come to these countries this quickly. they built infrastructure helped promote national unity by becoming the common enemy everyone united against, that sort of thing.

and dianne, it's ok. i'm glad to see people try to learn about this part of the world as much as I want to learn about the rest of it. it's a start! 

Posted by anna.
3/02/2005 01:28:00 am  



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