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Australian Broadcasting Corporation


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Aceh Chronology

Follow key events in the history of this conflict.

Early History 
 Aceh (also spelled Acheh, Achin or Atjeh) was a Buddhist state that flourished about AD 500 in northern Sumatra. According to some historians, Islam first enters the Indonesian archipelago, and possibly all of South Asia, through Aceh sometime around the year AD700. The first Islamic kingdom, Perlak (a prosperous trading port in what is now Aceh), is established in the year AD 804.
 Aceh's power reaches its height in the time of Sultan Iskandar Muda. In this period there are frequent wars with the Portuguese at Malacca, and the Portuguese fleet is defeated at Bintan in 1614.
 London Treaty (also referred to as the Anglo-Dutch treaty) is signed. Through this instrument, the Dutch gain control of all the British possessions on the Island of Sumatra. In exchange, the Dutch surrender their possessions in India and withdraw all claims in Singapore. In the same treaty the Dutch agree to allow independence for Aceh.
 The British allow the Dutch to invade Aceh, possibly to prevent French annexation. This begins the Aceh War, which lasts intermittently from 1873 to 1942. It is the longest war ever fought by the Dutch, costing them over 10,000 lives.
 The Dutch finally abandon their attempt to occupy Aceh, shortly before the Japanese invade Indonesia. After attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese turn south to conquer several South East Asian countries, including Singapore and Dutch East Indies. In March 1942, the Dutch colonial army surrenders to the Japanese.
AugustDays before the Japanese surrender to the Allies, the Republic of Indonesia proclaims its independence. Soon, however, both the British and Dutch are back in the region, to pursue political and economic interests.
 The Linggarjati Agreement is signed by Indonesia and the Netherlands in March 1947. In the agreement, the Dutch recognise Indonesian sovereignty over the Islands of Java, Sumatra, and Madura. Many Indonesians view the deal as a violation of Indonesia's 1945 independence proclamation, which implied sovereignty over additional territory. The agreement leads to another four years of aggression and territorial deputes between the Netherlands and Indonesia.
 Round Table Conference Agreements are signed. Brokered under the auspices of the United Nations, the agreements provide for a transfer of sovereignty between the Netherlands' territory of the Dutch East Indies and a fully independent Indonesia.
December 17Aceh province is established and Daud Beureueh is elected governor.
December 27The Dutch East Indies ceases to exist and becomes the sovereignty Federal Republic of Indonesia. The Kingdom of Aceh is included in the agreements despite the fact that it has never been formally incorporated into the Dutch colonial possession. Subsequently, the Java-based Indonesian government forcibly annexes Aceh.
 Rebels in the West Java countryside attempt to establish an Islamic republic of Indonesia ["Darul Islam" ("House of Islam") rebellion]. Acehnese support the rebellion, which is viewed as the precursor to Aceh's own independence movement.
September 20Aceh governor Daud Beureueh declares Aceh independent from Indonesia.
 Darul Islam rebellion ends when, after negotiations, the Sukarno government of Indonesia gives assurances that Aceh would be given status as a special region, with broad autonomy with regard to religion, customary law and education.
December 4Teungku Hasan M. di Tiro declares Acehnese independence and establishes Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), the Free Aceh Movement as an armed resistance group to pursue independence for Aceh.
Late 1970s 
 GAM attacks government troops and the Indonesian government responds with mass arrests of GAM members.
 GAM is defeated and Teungku Hasan M. di Tiro flees to Sweden.
 GAM strengthens its military arm, Angkatan Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (AGAM).
 Over one hundred Libyan-trained GAM guerrillas return to Aceh. The GAM, renamed "Aceh-Sumatra National Liberation Front" (ASNLF) re-emerges and challenges the Indonesian government by attacking troops and civilian personnel.
MayAfter a series of GAM attacks on military and police posts, including one raid on a police post that netted ammunition and dozens of automatic weapons, the Soeharto government declares Aceh a 'military operations area' (daerah operasi militer or DOM) and launches one of the heaviest counterinsurgency campaigns seen since the 1960s.
 The rebellion is largely defeated. Over 1,000 Acehnese civilians are killed in the counterinsurgency campaign.
December 25Forty Acehnese enter the U.S., French, Dutch, Swiss, British and Italian embassies in Kuala Lumpur and request asylum. The U.S., French, British and Italian embassies allow Malaysian police to enter their premises and forcibly remove the Acehnese, whom the police then detain.
March 26Malaysia deports 545 Acehnese from detention centres. Riots break out in the detention centres, and an unknown number of Acehnese escape.
March 30Fourteen Acehnese asylum seekers drive a truck through a gate of the UNHCR compound in Kuala Lumpur. UNHCR allows them to remain at the compound while it determines their status.
April 10Thirty-five Acehnese break into U.S., Swiss, French, and Brunei compounds in Kuala Lumpur. All but the U.S. embassy hand them over to Malaysian authorities; eight remain at the U.S. embassy, which asks UNHCR to determine their status.
MayIndonesian President Soeharto is forced to resign from office following large-scale protests and riots in Jakarta and widespread political and economic discontent. The new president, B.J. Habibie, promises reform.
June 10UNHCR determines that the fourteen Acehnese at its compound and the eight at the U.S. embassy are refugees in need of protection. The United States agrees to resettle up to half of the Acehnese referred by UNHCR in Malaysia, but none from the U.S. embassy. Other Acehnese in Malaysia remain in detention or in hiding.
Early AugustMass graves are discovered in Aceh, supporting the contention of many Acehnese that Indonesian soldiers killed numerous Aceh Merdeka members and suspected sympathisers.
August 7The commander of Indonesia's armed forces, General Wiranto, apologises to the people of Aceh for atrocities committed by the military. General Wiranto ends Aceh's status as an area of military operations, promising substantial troop withdrawal from the province.
August 22The first group of 250 combat troops is withdrawn from Aceh.
August 31Military rule in Aceh is lifted and more than 650 troops leave Aceh, sparking anti-military riots that expand into anti-Chinese violence.
Early SeptemberThe Indonesian government sends 300 troops back into Aceh.
Aug-0ctIndonesia's National Human Rights Commission, the Indonesian military, and private human rights organisations release estimates of atrocities committed in Aceh during the military operation period. They state that around 920 people have been killed, 37,000 tortured and more than 500 others "disappeared" and never found. Estimates by the International Crisis Group range from 1000-3000 killed and 900-1400 missing.
0ct-NovIndonesia experiences continued civil unrest which President B.J. Habibie says could threaten national unity.
NovemberClashes between GAM and the security forces begin to occur on a regular basis.
 GAM grows rapidly and by mid-1999 is in control of a greater proportion of the Acehnese countryside than ever before.
January 27Indonesian President Habibie announces his offer of 'popular consultation' to determine the future of East Timor. Although he says a similar offer will not be made to Aceh, his announcement has an impact in the province.
FebruaryStudents in Banda Aceh form the Aceh Referendum Information Centre (Sentral Informasi Referendum Aceh - SIRA). The governor Syamsuddim Mahmud responds by calling for a federal system and the implementation of Islamic law in Aceh. Tens of thousands of students demonstrate and demand independence.
MarchIndonesian President Habibie visits Aceh and apologises 'for what has been done by the security forces, by accident or deliberately' and announces the release of political prisoners. Thousands of students demonstrate and are fired on by troops, who wound over 100.
September 22The national parliament (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat - DPR) passes a law granting the provincial government authority to determine its own policies in the fields of religion, custom and education.
OctoberAbdurrahman Wahid is democratically elected as Indonesian President.
November 8A massive protest for the Aceh referendum is conducted by SIRA, with over 1.5 million Acehnese coming to Banda Aceh to exercise political views. No casualties are reported.
DecemberIt is reported that since the lifting of DOM in August 1998, 447 civilians and 84 members of the security forces have been killed, with another 144 missing.
January 27Indonesian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Hassan Wirajuda, meets GAM leader Hasan Di Tiro. They agree on further meetings.
March 16Indonesian Acting State Secretary, Bondan Gunawan enters a GAM-dominated area in Aceh and meets with GAM's military commander, Abdullah Syafi'ie. This is the first open contact between a government official and a GAM commander in the field.
MayIndonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid reduces the presence of non-Acehnese forces in the province.
May 12The government under President Wahid signs an agreement with GAM representatives in Geneva described as a 'Humanitarian Pause' in order to end the violence in the territory. It is reported that around 300 people have been killed since the beginning of the year.
May 18A human rights tribunal convicts 24 Indonesian soldiers and one civilian of murdering 57 villagers during a separatist uprising in 1999.
June 2A three-month ceasefire is implemented in Aceh, allowing for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and promoting 'confidence-building measures towards a peaceful solution to the conflict situation in Aceh'.
AugustJaffar Hamzah Siddiq, a director of the International Forum on Aceh is abducted and murdered while visiting Medan.
SeptemberIt is reported that since the introduction of the Pause, 69 civilians and 14 members of the security forces have been killed in Aceh.
Aug-SeptViolence escalates as the initial phase of the Humanitarian Pause draws to a close. President Abdurrahman Wahid approves an extension until 15 January 2001.
Sep-DecReports of armed clashes, disappearances, summary executions and other forms of violence continue to increase.
Mid-Nov.The Indonesian military fires on groups of civilians on their way to Banda Aceh to attend a pro-referendum rally. The Aceh branch of the National Human Rights Commission says that thirty people were killed.
DecemberThree humanitarian aid workers from RATA (Rehabilitation Action for Torture Victims in Aceh) are killed in North Aceh. Other NGOs react by scaling back program activities in the territory.
 Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid visits Banda Aceh, although rebel leaders refuse to meet him. About 12 people die in the lead-up to the visit bringing the year's tally to about 800, double the number killed in 1999.
January 19The seven-month ceasefire (now called a moratorium) is extended for another month, following all-party talks in Switzerland.
Feb-MarTalks continue and an agreement is made to extend the moratorium indefinitely and rename it damai melalui dialog (peace through dialogue). Four meetings take place between GAM and Indonesian security commanders, the first time local commanders hold discussions in Aceh. They agree on a four-point code of conduct and decide to establish 'zones of peace'.
MarchThe Indonesian cabinet officially pronounces GAM as a 'separatist' movement.
 Indonesian Defence Minister Mahfud Mohammed announces a new offensive against GAM.
 ExxonMobil operations are suspended with the Indonesian government blaming GAM.
March 30Tengku Kamal, a member of the TMMK for South Aceh is killed, along with his driver and human rights lawyer.
AprilThe Human Rights organisation Kontras reports that 256 people have been killed in 79 clashes so far in 2001.
April 11President Abdurrahman Wahid signs a Presidential Instruction on Comprehensive Measures to Resolve the Aceh Problem. The instruction provides for broad policies in the political, economic, social, legal, security and communications fields. In the absence of effective government control in Aceh, mainly security measures are implemented.
May 12A Memorandum of Understanding is signed by Indonesian and Free Aceh Movement leaders implementing a continued ceasefire, with a view to kick-starting the peace process.
June-JulyA military offensive in Aceh is launched.
JulyMegawati Sukarnoputri replaces Wahid as President.
AugustThe Human Rights organisation Kontras reports that between April-August 2001, 539 people had been killed in 193 clashes.
 The new president of Indonesia, Megawati Soekarnoputri apologises to the provinces of Aceh for decades of human rights abuses and promises to restore order in the region.
August 841 Acehnese villagers in East Aceh are allegedly butchered by TNI. One witness escapes to tell.
SeptemberPresident Megawati visits Aceh, but the talks end without agreement.
January 22The military commander of GAM, Abdullah Syafi'ie, is shot dead during a raid on his jungle base. His pregnant wife, Aisyah Umar, and five personal bodyguards are also killed.
February 2-3Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri begins a new round of talks with GAM.
May 8-9Talks are held again in Geneva and results in a joint statement agreeing to further negotiations on humanitarian assistance and autonomy.
May 31Human rights groups say that in the last two weeks 36 civilians have been killed.
JulyIndonesian Military Commander General Ryamizard Ryacudu says the military and police in Aceh will take tough action against members of GAM, calling them 'terrorists'.
 Military operations in Aceh intensify.
JulyChief Security Minister Bambang Yudhoyono says the government will investigate suggestions that the region's Geneva-based peace talks negotiator, the Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, is taking the side of separatists.
August 19The Indonesian government issues a 3-month deadline to GAM to continue the dialogue 'within the framework of special autonomy and the cessation of hostilities'.
October 28About 1200-1400 troops surround an area in North Aceh used by GAM as a camp.
November 4GAM declares a unilateral ceasefire.
December 9The Cessation of Hostilities Framework Agreement (COHA) between Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement is signed. The accord is brokered by the Geneva-based conflict resolution organisation, the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) and allows for the presence of international monitors, along with monitors from the two sides to check on implementation. The Indonesian side undertakes to halt offensive actions and pull back their troops to defensive positions while GAM agree to place their weapons in storage. The agreement also provides for the re-activation of the Joint Security Committee (JSC) consisting of up to five representatives each of the government, the GAM and the third party, the HDC. The JSC functions included implementation of the agreement, monitoring of the security situation and the design and implementation of a mutually agreed process of demilitarisation. Both the Indonesian government and GAM 'agree to a process which leads to an election in 2004 and the subsequent establishment of a democratically elected government in Aceh'.
 TNI and GAM commanders order their troops to cease offensive actions.
JanuaryJakarta grants Aceh special autonomy, including the implementation of Islamic shariah law and greater revenue-sharing of its natural resources.
January 27The first 'peace zone' is established at Indrapuri (population 16,500). Members of both the military and Gam are permitted to enter but not to carry arms.
FebruaryAnother six sub-districts in Aceh as well as Pidie and Bireuen are designated 'peace zones'.
February 20Army chief-of-staff General Ryamizard Ryacudu makes a solemn pledge in a packed meeting of 250 active and retired generals: 'The Indonesian army will never tolerate efforts to separate Papua and Aceh from NKRI [the Unitary State of Indonesia], whether they come from at home or abroad'.
MarchA series of demonstrations take place at JSC field monitoring offices, some of their premises are heavily damaged and several officials wounded. The demonstrations are seen as having been engineered by the Indonesian military to show the Acehnese are opposed the peace process.
April 6Demonstrators burn down the JSC office in Langsa.
April 8The JSC decides to withdraw all its 144 observers to Banda Aceh.
 President Megawati Sukarnoputri instructs the TNI and the police to prepare for 'security operations' in Aceh.
April 10Minister-Coordinator for Political and Security Affairs, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had initially favoured the accord, announces that Indonesia is ready to launch military operations in Aceh and is preparing to use 50,000 troops. Lt-General Bibit Waluyo, commander of the army's strategic command, KOSTRAD, says he will be sending hundreds of reinforcements to Aceh 'to crush GAM', while Major-General Sriyanto, commander of the special forces, Kopassus, says that two Kopassus battalions, about 1,600 men, have just been dispatched to Aceh.
April 25The Operations Command for the Restoration of Security reports that since the agreement in December 2002, 58 people (of which 50 were civilians) have been killed, with 50 people killed in the first weeks of April.
April 28Minister-Coordinator for Political and Security Affairs, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announces that Indonesia isissuing a two-week ultimatum to GAM to accept special autonomy and to agree that Aceh will 'remain within the fold of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia'. GAM responds, saying they will not accept an ultimatum.
MayThe HDC, backed by the US, Japan, the European Union and the World Bank finally persuade the two sides to meet in Tokyo for talks.
May 16On their way to peace talks in Tokyo, five members of the GAM negotiation team are arrested in Aceh Besar. [The five were: Amni bin Ahmad Marzuki, Teuku Muhammad Usman, Sofyan Ibrahim Tiba, Teuku Kamaruzaman and Nashiruddin Ahmad.] The GAM team in Tokyo refuses to participate unless they are released. They are released but do not make it to the talks. The Indonesian delegation presents a series of demands to GAM - that they should accept special autonomy as the final solution, that they should abandon their demand for independence and that they should disband its armed forces. Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says that a military operation would commence if GAM refused to accept the conditions.
May 19President Megawati Sukarnoputri imposes martial law and signs a declaration of military emergency in Aceh, On The Declaration of a State of Emergency with the Status of Martial Law in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam Province. By this time the TNI strength in Aceh has grown to about 30,000 together with about 12,000 police. Military operations commence. Most of Aceh is now closed to independent observers.
July 2003Armed Forces Chief Endriartono Sutarto apologises to the people of Aceh.
August 20Indonesian official death toll stands at: 710 dead GAM, 515 arrested GAM, 428 surrendered GAM, 30 dead soldiers, five dead police officers, and a dozen dead civilians.

GAM states the figures as: 70 dead GAM, 'hundreds' dead Indonesian security forces, over 2,000 dead civilians.

Human rights activists estimate: well over 1,000 civilians dead, killed mainly by security forces; no figures for security forces or GAM dead.

Indonesian Red Cross declines to state a figure, but a representative in Bireuen district admits to hundreds of bodies recovered mainly of non-combatants. [Guardian, "Battered people of Aceh...", 20 August 2003]

SeptemberFive GAM negotiators are convicted and sentenced to between 12 and 15 years in prison for treason.
MayStatus changed to civil emergency.
SeptemberA Human Rights Watch report claims Indonesia’s military systematically tortured prisoners to obtain confessions used to prosecute and jail separatist sympathisers in Aceh.
Read the report: "Aceh at War: Torture, Ill-Treatment, and Unfair Trials"
NovemberPresident Yudhoyono flies to Aceh and offers amnesty, economic aid and provincial autonomy to rebels. Rebels refuse offer.
December 26An earthquake measuring magnitude 9.0 on Richter scale occurs off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia at 6:58 a.m. local time. The earthquake had a depth of 10km and triggered massive tsunamis that affected several countries throughout South and Southeast Asia – over 100,000 killed in Aceh.
January 5Prime Minister Howard announces $1 billion aid for Indonesia - $500 million in grants ("short term restorative programs") and $500 million in concessional loans.
January 5The Australian Newspaper reports: "The Indonesian military is continuing to wage war with separatist rebels in the hills of Aceh... GAM spokesman Teuku Jamaika said military raids had continued in hill areas such as Idi Rayek, in Bireuen, Gandapura and Pasongan. Local people had been prevented from leaving their villages to find relatives or simply to help, he said."
Read article: "Army still at war in Aceh"
January 6Leaders Summit in Jakarta. PM Howard announces further details of aid package.
Compiled from various sources including: CNN; Atjeh Times; The Australian; The Guardian; miscellaneous news reports, and a paper by Professor Harold Crouch (ANU) and Edward Aspinall (Sydney University).