Indonesia conflict history updated by ICG

Conflict history: Indonesia
Updated on February 16th 2010 by the International Crisis Group

Head of State: Pres. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Oct. 2004 –

Formerly the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia declared independence in 1945 and achieved it four years later after protracted guerrilla war. Experience of shared colonial struggle and the 1928 adoption by Indonesia’s nationalist movement of single lingua franca, bahasa Indonesia, have been two most important factors holding the archipelago of over 17,000 islands and over 250 ethnic groups together.

Indonesia’s first decade was marked by the rise and fall of parliamentary democracy (first free election held in 1955; second held in 1999); outbreak of regional rebellions which claimed to be struggling for an Islamic state in Sumatra, Sulawesi, and West Java, though local grievances were paramount; rise of Indonesian military and Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) as powerful political institutions; and dominance of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno.

Early 1960s Sukarno tried to maintain increasingly precarious political balance between PKI, which had grown to become third largest Communist Party in world outside Soviet Union and China, and military. 30 September 1965, group of revolutionary junior officers backed by some members of PKI, murdered six generals and announced they had taken power to forestall army coup. Major-General Suharto, who some claim had prior knowledge of coup attempt, rallied army. Over next six months, Suharto engineered transfer of power from Sukarno to himself and encouraged purge of PKI leaving as many as half a million dead. Worst killings took place East Java, where army encouraged local Muslim youth groups to take revenge for PKI’s efforts to unilaterally seize and redistribute land, and in Bali and Aceh.

There is widespread myth ethnic Chinese bore brunt of killings. While true that Suharto accused People’s Republic of China of backing “fifth column” of Indonesian Chinese and subsequently banned the use of Chinese symbols and cultural expression during his reign, ethnic Chinese probably do not account for more than 2,000 of hundreds of thousands killed. Most were ethnic Javanese and Balinese.

30 September coup attempt and aftermath marked the beginning of Suharto’s “New Order” government though he did not formally become president until 1967. His authoritarian government bears responsibility for most of Indonesia’s conflicts, but seeds were planted earlier. Suharto years came to violent end May 1998, after the 1997 Asian financial crisis added to growing dissatisfaction with his rule and his family’s corruption. Vice-president, B.J. Habibie, succeeded Suharto. Habibie’s decision to allow East Timor referendum, and consequences of that decision (see Timor-Leste) ended his presidency October 1999. Muslim cleric and intellectual Abdurrahman Wahid became president, only to be impeached in July 2001. Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sukarno’s daughter, took over until country’s first direct presidential elections in 2004, won by Gen. (ret.) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with 61 per cent of vote. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was re-elected president in 2009 with 60.8 per cent of the vote.

Following major conflicts confront Indonesia:

Papua (Papua and West Papua Provinces): Sukarno’s failure to gain control of Dutch-controlled western half of island of New Guinea at independence made its inclusion into Indonesia a top domestic and foreign policy priority. Indonesian troops were sent there in 1961, and, with help of Kennedy administration in U.S., Dutch were pressured to turn territory over to UN in 1963. U.N. administered vote on self-determination, called Act of Free Choice, conducted in 1969 among just over 1,000 representatives hand-picked by Indonesia under flagrant intimidation by security forces. Vote was unanimously in support of integration with Indonesia. Small, scattered and poorly armed guerrilla group, called Free Papua Organisation or OPM, has been fighting for independence ever since, but much larger part of population supports non-violent efforts to get same result. A Special autonomy package for Papua, passed by Indonesian parliament 2001, was undercut by decision of Megawati government January 2003 to divide Papua into two provinces – Papua and West Papua -- as way of weakening support for independence.

Several causes of tension remain: perceived slow implementation of the Special Autonomy law; communal tensions linked to shifting demographics between the indigenous and non-indigenous population; lack of equal access to natural resource wealth; heavy-handed response by security forces; stalled dialogue on Papuan cultural and political expression; and lasting scars left by military abuses during Suharto era. Distrust between Papuans and the government continue despite efforts for dialogue on both sides. The 2009 national legislative elections were accompanied by acts of violence. Three people have died in incidents related to gun attacks around the PT Freeport Indonesia copper and gold mine near Timika between July to December 2009 have led to a heightened security presence around the mine. The military’s announcement of plans for the creation of a new regional command for West Papua province November 2009, combined with the fatal shooting of an OPM commander Kelly Kwalik December 2009, augment local feelings that the central government continues to see the Papuan issue as a security rather than a political problem.

Aceh (Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam): Former sultanate on northern tip of Sumatra held out against Dutch longer than any other part of what became Indonesia. Its leaders were promised recognition of special status from newly independent government, and when this failed to materialise, armed rebellion called Darul Islam broke out in 1953. Defeated in early 1960s, some former members formed pro-independence Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM) 1976, citing range of political and economic grievances. Low-intensity guerrilla war ensued, under leadership of Acehnese exile Hasan di Tiro, based in Sweden. Suharto government launched massive counterinsurgency offensive in 1990 after number of Libyan-trained GAM guerrillas began series of attacks on police posts, transmigrant camps and other places. Abuses committed by army between 1990-1998 left lasting scars, and demands by Acehnese for justice after Suharto fell went unheeded. GAM took advantage of anger, new political openness, and demands for East Timor-style referendum, to rebuild. Violence escalated 1999-2000, halted temporarily by negotiations between GAM and government of Abdurrahman Wahid, brokered by Geneva-based Henri Dunant Centre that broke down December 2002. 19 May 2003, Megawati government declared military emergency, downgraded to civilian emergency May 2004. The December 2004 tsunami caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in Aceh, opened up the conflict zone to outside aid bodies and caused GAM to issue a unilateral ceasefire. Helsinki peace talks mediated by Crisis Management Initiative, an NGO led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, led to the signing of a historic peace agreement between GAM and the government August 2005.

As part of peace agreement, local political parties were allowed to compete in provincial elections. Partai Aceh became the predominant political vehicle for the majority of GAM. 2007 former GAM commander, Irwandi Yusuf was elected governor of Aceh province on a platform of reconciliation and provincial development. Despite several grenade attacks on Partai Aceh offices in 2008 and anxiety in Jakarta and military that GAM dominated provincial parliament would lead to renewed calls for independence, 2009 national elections were peaceful with Partai Aceh, becoming the dominant party by winning 46.8 per cent of the provincial parliament vote. However, post conflict complications remain unresolved: assimilation of ex combatants into society; armed criminal actions including extortion and kidnapping; settlement of historic grievances; implementation of provincial legislation. November and December 2009 also saw several unresolved gun attacks on foreign nationals residing in Aceh.

Ambon and Moluccas: The Southern part of Moluccan archipelago, capital Ambon, was one of few areas of Dutch East Indies to prefer Dutch control; some leaders proclaimed the Republic of South Moluccas (RMS) in 1950 rather than submit to control from Jakarta. The RMS movement was largely but not exclusively Christian in area almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims. It was defeated November 1950 after brief but bloody war; an estimated 12,000 Ambonese families fled to Netherlands. Only vestige of RMS thereafter was raising of RMS flag every 25 April by RMS sympathizers who would then all be arrested.

Communal relations outwardly peaceful until just after Suharto fell. However, 19 January 1999, a minor brawl at end of Muslim fasting month erupted into full-scale war between Christians and Muslims. By the time a peace agreement was signed, in early 2002, as many as 5,000 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Although conflict on the scale of 1999 has not reoccurred, April 2004 and December 2008 saw outbreaks of violence and rioting. Latent communal tensions, equitable distribution of development fund, corruption, access to land and resources, and the creation of new districts, are all potential triggers that undermine lasting stability in the region.

Central Sulawesi: Street battles between Christian and Muslim gangs, often supporting different competing political parties, December 1998 escalated into sectarian violence between the two communities in Central Sulawesi in 1999. Poso was one of the worst affected areas peaking in mid-2000 after a massacre of over 100 Muslims by Christians. Malino Accords signed December 2001 between warring factions diminished conflict although attacks continued until 2006 by radical groups such as Mujahidin KOMPAK and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Tension in Poso spiked again January 2007 after police raided a JI hideout and killed 15 although calm has since returned to the region. Initiatives in improving education and offering vocational training to would-be extremists have helped keep the peace. Underlying grievances related to justice and accountability, and effective targeting and oversight of recovery funding remain key factors in ensuring a sustainable peace.

Darul Islam and Jemaah Islamiyah: Darul Islam (DI) rebellion broke out West Java 1949. DI became core of movement that led to birth of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist organisation. DI movement called for Islamic State of Indonesia (Negara Islam Indonesia or NII). By mid-1950s, it was joined by two other Darul Islam movements, in Aceh and South Sulawesi. All three were defeated by Indonesian army, only to be revived mid-1970s with help of Indonesian intelligence. Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir joined DI at this time in reaction to Suharto’s repression of political Islam. They were arrested in 1979, released in 1982, and fled to Malaysia in 1985 where they developed community of Indonesian exiles, many of them DI members. Sungkar helped organise recruitment of DI members to fight against the Soviet Union Afghanistan in 1980’s These men, including Hambali, became prominent leaders of JI when Sungkar formed the organisation in 1994. Social networks linked to JI and DI affiliated schools remain recruiting grounds for new members and shelters for wanted terrorists. JI members have been involved in the 2000 Christmas Eve bombings, October 2002 Bali bomb, August 2003 Marriot bomb, September 2004 Australian embassy bomb, October 2005 Bali bombings and July 2009 Marriot-Ritz Carlton bombings. They were also active in sectarian conflict in Poso and Ambon. Government de-radicalisation initiatives; the capture or killing of influential salafi-jihadi leaders such as Mohammad Noordin Top November 2009; and internal JI debates over the legitimate use of violence, have all played a role in decreasing but not eliminating the threat of future terrorist actions.

Other ethnic and communal conflicts: Other post-Suharto conflicts have erupted in West and Central Kalimantan between ethnic Dayaks and Madurese, migrant group who Dayaks see as having dispossessed them of land and economic opportunities. Combined death toll in Kalimantan outbreaks since 1999 is well over 1,000 and number of displaced close to 100,000. In handful of areas across Indonesia, major decentralization program has exacerbated existing tensions by creating new districts drawn along ethnic or communal lines. Also, government’s failure to address problem of displaced effectively is laying groundwork for future violence.