South Asia tsunami information   |   Information on Aceh

He survived the great wave,
only to die at the hands of the government

13 January 2005

Zakaria Su’ud and his family were asleep when the knock at the door came. By the time he had gathered his wits the policemen were already dragging his 25-year-old son Hamdani outside.

"They kept shouting: ‘Where is the gun? Where is the gun?’” he said, in his small house in Banda Aceh. "My son and I said, ‘There is no gun.’ But they wouldn’t listen."

The Indonesian policemen allegedly tied Hamdani’s hands behind his back and kicked his father. Then they threw the young man on the floor and half a dozen of them kicked him where he lay.

"My son was praying as they kicked him, and I was screaming," Zakaria said. "Then his hands were free and he was running. The soldiers fired their rifles at him, many shots, and he fell down." Three bullets entered through the left side of his back and exited through his chest. Hamdani was dead.

Two weeks earlier, his family had survived the earthquake and tsunami which killed more than 100,000 of their fellow Acehnese. They made do in the chaos that followed. But today, Zakaria and his family are grieving for a son killed not by natural disaster but one they claim was murdered by agents of the Indonesian Government.

Hamdani was a guerrilla, a member of the Free Aceh Movement which is fighting for independence from the Government. But he was also a son and a brother, and he had come down from the hills to Banda Aceh, unarmed, to see whether his family were still alive.

Despite its public offer of a ceasefire to the independence fighters of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka — GAM), the Indonesian Government has secretly continued its brutal campaign against all those it suspects of aiding the rebel cause.

According to witnesses interviewed by The Times and a senior GAM commander, Indonesian security forces have murdered innocent survivors of the earthquake and attacked unarmed rebels such as Hamdani who have ventured into the devastated towns and villages to find their families.

In the village of Lam Lhom, half an hour’s drive from Banda Aceh, refugees from the tsunami said that five men returning to retrieve possessions from their ruined homes were lined up and shot by soldiers of the Indonesian National Army (TNI) three days after the Boxing Day disaster.

According to Muharram Idris, GAM commander for the greater Banda Aceh region, guerrillas were also shot at by Indonesian soldiers in the Kbude Bing district on three consecutive days after the tsunami, although no one was injured. Commander Muharram said that tsunami survivors in the village of Cot Leuping were also terrorised a few days after the disaster when troops fired over their heads.

"We don’t believe the Government and the TNI when they speak of a ceasefire," Commander Muharram told The Times yesterday from his base in the hills above Banda Aceh. "The Government tells lies.

"The Indonesian Government is not serious about helping the people of Aceh — I hope that the international community will give us help."

Hamdani was typical of those who joined the ranks of the Free Aceh Movement: young and poor. His family has received none of the benefits of the rich resources that the Indonesian Government and multi-national companies extract from Aceh’s oil and gas fields.

Their home is a shack of wood, concrete and corrugated iron. As his father, mother, sisters, brothers and aunt spoke to The Times last night, tropical rain flowed through inadequate tarpaulins. The house was, however, far enough inland to escape the wave.

Hamdani joined the rebels three years ago. "He wanted freedom for Aceh," his aunt, Nurhayati Usman, said. "The family didn’t want him to join GAM. We support a free Aceh, but we were scared that one person in GAM would bring suffering to the whole family."

They saw nothing of Hamdani until he appeared two days after the disaster. "He wanted to look after his family," Mrs Nurhayati said. We didn’t know where he’d been because he didn’t say."

On one thing all the members of the family are agreed: Hamdani was in civilian clothes and carried no weapon.

He visited relatives and sat in the small coffee shop in front of the family’s home. "Perhaps it was there that somebody saw him," Mrs Nurhayati said.

An unknown informant told the police that he was home, and they stormed the house at 1am a week ago.

After witnessing Hamdani’s murder, his father and younger brother were arrested and questioned overnight. They buried Hamdani the next day and now live in terror of another knock at the door. "The police come every night, and they watch this house," Mrs Nurhayati said. "We hear their boots, and they bring two dogs."

To many Indonesians, the brutality of their security forces is nothing new. Similar killings have been happening for years in Aceh, barely noticed by the outside world. Hamdani’s death would have gone unremarked when foreign journalists were barred except for strictly controlled visits.

Then came the tsunami, which compelled the Indonesian Government to open Aceh to the media and the international aid community. The world has embraced Aceh’s victims of a catastrophe of nature. But, as the aid flows in, the man-made tragedies continue.

Richard Lloyd Parry

Information on Aceh   |   Peace Movement Aotearoa