- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

I had a buffet breakfast one day last week at the Red Roof Inn here with a man whom Indonesia wants arrested as a criminal. The Indonesian army has asked that Interpol, the international police agency, arrest Hasan Mohammed Tiro, the 70-year-old Prince of Acheh, who has been leading a quarter-century fight against the new colonialism in Southeast Asia. Prince Hasan (the title is hereditary) is self-exiled in Sweden. He has been seeking restoration of the independence of Acheh from the tottering and eternally corrupt governments of Indonesia.
Oil-and-gas-rich Acheh, with a small but highly durable population of 4 million people, is located on the northern tip of Sumatra, an island province of Indonesia. Centuries ago it was a victim of Dutch colonialism, as it is now a victim of Javanese colonialism. The huge Indonesian army has been engaged in what at times appeared to be a genocidal war against the Achenese rebels.
One of the iniquities of Western colonizers was that before surrendering their rule at the end of World War II, they coerced into so-called nation-states different peoples who at best were suspicious of each other and who at worst hated each other either because of clashing religions, cultures, histories, languages, castes or even skin color or appearance.
The colonial powers in the 19th century had fixed the official boundaries of these territorial possessions without regard for history and tradition. With decolonization, these boundaries became sacrosanct for the new ruling elites both in Africa and Asia.
In 1949, thanks to an unthinking Dutch government, the Dutch East Indies became "Indonesia," an archipelago whose 13,000 islands stretch the equivalent distance of London to Teheran. But in actual fact there is no "Indonesia" in history any more than there is a "Nigeria" in history. British blindness to African history led to the Biafran civil war between Yorubas and Ibos in the late 1960s, a war that took a million lives. Belgian blindness to history led to the long and brutal civil war in what had been the Belgian Congo.
In Indonesia, many islanders resent what they call "Javanese imperialism," since the Javanese elites dominate the government and civil institutions.
The central government in Jakarta has imposed on Acheh, whose people are devout Muslims, what Prince Hasan has called a reign of terror and what the Indonesian government calls a counterinsurgency campaign. The prince, who founded the Free Acheh (GAM) movement in 1976, is the formal president of the Acheh/Sumatra National Liberation Front, which claims to have a 100,000-strong guerrilla army.
The world knows about the near-genocidal massacre of the people of East Timor, about 600,000 killed since 1975 when Indonesia invaded and annexed the former Portuguese colony.
What is little known in the West are the mass killings of the people of Acheh. Since 1976, when the campaign for independence began, about 50,000 Achenese have been killed and more than 100,000 wounded by Indonesian troops, and the killings are still going on. Mass graves lie scattered all over Acheh, says Prince Hasan. It is obviously impossible to confirm this estimate independently.
Prince Hasan was in Washington last week pleading Achehs cause before sympathetic members of Congress, who have indicated their displeasure that the United States is supplying military equipment to the Indonesian government.
What is little known is that Acheh became an issue in the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant back in 1873 when the Dutch declared war against the Kingdom of Acheh, a war they lost. Asked by the Dutch government to endorse the Dutch aggression, Grant declined. In a message to Congress, he said he had ordered U.S. officials in the area "to observe an impartial neutrality."
In an era where human rights have become an integral part of U.S. foreign policy and where a special human rights section has been set up in the National Security Council (it will be headed by Elliott Abrams, former assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Reagan administration), the case of Achenese independence cries for justice.

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is columnist for The Washington Times.

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