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The War Nerd May 29, 2003
Aceh vs. the Borg
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3
It's not just rice and fish, either. Aceh has some of the richest natural-gas fields in Indonesia, and the locals say it's an all-Javanese operation from the get-go. The Javanese running the Indonesian government make a deal with Exxon, and send over Javanese hardhats to build the Aceh gas rigs. My Dad was a spot welder, so I can testify there's a whooole lotta money in laying and welding gas pipe. And all that money goes to the Javanese -- just like all the gas money they get from Exxon (well, a lot of that goes to Exxon's shareholders too, but you already knew that).

And the biggest sleazes are the officer corps of TNI, the Indonesian Army. TNI likes having a few bush wars going. It helps their officers' careers and makes them truckloads of cash.

Like any standing army, TNI has an officer corps eager for promotion. And the best way to get it is to be transferred to someplace like Aceh, or Irian Jaya, where the locals are rebelling. You're not really at much risk of getting shot, because the guerrillas are hopelessly outgunned, but you can get a big body count and a promotion. So the people on the ground in Aceh have good reason to kill as many locals as they can.

There's also a lot of money in it.

This is the most important thing to understand about Indonesia, and nobody realizes it. The Indonesian Army has to fund itself with scams. The Indonesian government only gives the Army about one-fourth of the money it needs. It's up to the Army to go out and get the rest.

So every last man in the TNI is looking for a private payoff. Every damn one, from general down to private. ExxonMobil pays TNI millions in protection money for its gas fields. That goes straight into the generals' pockets. The lower you go in the table of ranks, the smaller the grift. A Major might shake down a Chinese merchant (Indonesian Muslims hate Chinese like poison). A private might have to settle for "searching" a few huts and taking anything he can drag, a goat or chicken, back to the APC.

It stands to reason, if you want to keep the protection money coming in, there has to be something you're "protecting" your customers from. That's why TNI likes having low-level insurgencies popping up here and there -- like in Aceh. It gives the Army a reason to stay in power.

And they need that, because ever since Indonesia's big crash in 1998, TNI's been on thin ice. First the Javanese themselves rioted against Suharto and his Army cronies, then the word finally got out on all the horrible shit TNI was doing in East Timor. People started asking why Indonesia needs this big, corrupt, incompetent bunch of thugs in the first place.

TNI doesn't like that. They're used to running the country. They've been doing it since 1965. Not many people remember it now, but the first big "Islamist" rebellion happened in Indonesia in '65. Sukarno, the Pinko dictator who ran the country, was getting a little too Pinko to suit the Army or the CIA (which has always been real, real close to TNI). So with CIA help, the Army started agitating garrisons all around the country to kill any Commies they could find. They stirred up the civilians, too, about how the Commies were going to abolish religion.In a few months, the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) was wiped out. I mean wiped out. Nobody's sure of the casualty figures, but the best guesses are around 500,000 people. Some were commies, some were pesky neighbors ("I'll teach you to play that jungle music on a work night, you bastard!") and some just had furniture somebody coveted ("I want that sofa, you Commie you!"). From '65 to the late '90's, Suharto fronted for the Army and everybody was happy -- everybody in Langley, that is. Then the USSR went under and it got harder to pretend that every time TNI wiped out a village, it was "fighting communism."

To make life even harder for the TNI, the mass graves in East Timor started getting shown on the US evening news, and life got even harder for the TNI.

Now they're stuck. The only way they know how to do counter-insurgency is the old sloppy way: surround a village, shoot anyone on the "known rebel" list, torture the kids to get more names, rape the women and girls, burn the school, and leave with a stern warning: "Next time we won't be so nice!"

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.
Travel Guide
The Exile’s 2008 Happy Planet Guide To Moscow :
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Exotic Russian Vacations :

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The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

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