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Pacific Ecologist

Cry for Acheh

In the past decade Exxon Mobil has earned $US40 billion from exploiting Acheh's resources. CUT ZAHARA HAMZA pleads with shareholders at an ExxonMobil annual meeting in Texas to stop supporting the Indonesian military forces in Acheh which continue to commit atrocities on innocent villagers in the name of protecting the company's interests.

My name is Cut Zahara Hamzah. I was born and brought up by my parents amid the noises of the machinery of the LNG plant and the thick black smoke of the factories. I grew up in a very polluted environment, polluted air, polluted water, in the so-called petrol or Gas-city of Lhokseumawe, North Acheh. My house was separated by a high wall of barbed wire from the luxurious housing complex of the staff members of Exxon Mobil, the complex that is named "Bukit Indah," or "Beautiful Hill" in Indonesian.

About a mile behind my house was located the infamous Rancung building belonging to PT Arun, the Indonesian state company, partner of Exxon Mobil. Between 1989-1998, in what is commonly known as the DOM period, when Acheh was placed under the Military Operation Area, the Rancung building was used as a center of torture, rape and execution by the Indonesian military. About 9 miles away from my house is the Exxon Mobil Industrial Complex (Arun Field), where 5 Gas Exploitation Clusters belonging to Exxon Mobil are located. Each of these clusters contains 22 gas wells; and it is around this area that my maternal grandmother and most family members on my mother's side reside.

I am here to share with you the feelings of local residents who have to live in the middle of your giant plant that has been operating for decades on the land that used to belong to our families from time immemorial. I am going to tell you what really your company, Exxon Mobil, has given to us over the years in return for the riches it has brought back to you from exploiting our land. Exxon Mobil started production in Acheh in 1978. During the last decade it earned $US40 billion from Acheh, so every year it steadily made $2 billion dollars. But what has it given us, the local population, in return?

Effects of Exxon's roads on land and farmers

Since starting its activities in Acheh in 1971, Exxon Mobil has built roads that interconnect the Clusters with other facility complexes, such as the staff-housing complex (Bukit Indah), warehouses, maintenance facilities, etc. The problem is that all these roads criss-cross our villages, cutting through agricultural sites consisting of hundreds of hectares of rice fields, turning them into separate compartments. The roads cause loss of water to parts of the fields and destroy the irrigation system, resulting in loss of livelihood for most villagers who depend on rice farming.

But our suffering did not end there. In 1998, at the fall of the tyrannical regime of General Suharto, we found out your company had been financing the military operation in Acheh for a decade since 1989. Exxon Mobil had provided the facilities for the Indonesian military to torture, rape and kill our kinsfolk. It had paid the salaries of soldiers who burnt our houses and robbed our properties. There are of course people who would contest this statement, including naturally the current CEO of Exxon Mobil. But we can give you proof and eyewitnesses' accounts. But worse still, the atrocities are still going on at this very moment. Your company is still paying the soldiers and the soldiers are still killing civilians, raping women, pillaging and burning villages around the Exxon Mobil complex, in the name of protecting your Company. The atrocities continue because Exxon Mobil has legitimized the presence of non-local TNI (Indonesian military) troops in Acheh with the excuse of protecting the security of this company.

Nightly arrests, shootings, disappearances

It is still fresh in my memory that every night we heard the sound of gunshots and a military van passing by our house and in the morning we would find out who was missing, taken from their houses to disappear forever without a trace. From eyewitnesses we now know that those taken in the middle of the night by soldiers in a van would be blindfolded. The van would go around and around in the village to then stop at Rancong and let the passengers down for the execution. The leadership of Exxon Mobil has sought to deny this fact, but when we discovered the mass graves at the Seuntang and Seureuke hills, which are within the Cluster 5 site of Exxon Mobil that has been operating since 1995, such denials are no longer acceptable.

My husband used to work for Exxon Mobil for 6 years. He reported that he and several of his friends were often ordered to repair equipment and vehicles used by TNI soldiers in their military operations. They often found blood splashed all over the equipment and vehicles. When in the end he and his friends were arrested and tortured by the TNI soldiers who were based within the Exxon Mobil complex, the Company did not lift a finger to try to help them. Instead of protesting, the company sought to cover up the incident. Such incidents were often repeated at Exxon Mobil in Acheh. Consequently, the presence of TNI troops within the Company's premises does not bring a feeling of security to people; the fact is it disrupts peace and security in the area, including for the staff of Exxon Mobil itself. Yet, despite knowing the reality, Exxon Mobil is at this very moment giving facilities to TNI troops to conduct operations in surrounding villages without caring at all about the atrocities these troops are inflicting on innocent villagers.

According to data I have collected, at present there are 82 military posts located in North Acheh, and 21 of them are within the relatively small area of Exxon Mobil. Every post is usually manned by about 40 to 500 soldiers. For Rancong, specifically, there are 1200 TNI troops. Do you, Ladies and Gentlemen Shareholders know what these troops are doing to our villagers? They launch operation after operation in our villages under the pretext of searching for the Free Acheh Movement (GAM) guerillas, who are fighting to free Acheh from Indonesia. But in reality, they arrest, detain, torture and cause the disappearance of innocent villagers. They set up roadblocks and extort money from petty traders such as fishmongers passing through the Company's roads.

Killings, rape, pillage

Women and children are not spared. Soldiers pillage village shops, confiscate property at will and burn houses on the slightest excuse. Each military post imposes monthly contributions on petty traders. Chiefs of villages are told to form night watch teams. Saying no to any instruction is a sure death sentence. Villagers continue to go missing; many are our own relatives, our loved ones. Those arrested and taken away will invariably turn up as corpses the next day on the roadside.

Among those victims of kidnap, torture and murder were my own uncle, cousin and brother. My brother Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, was a human rights activist and a permanent resident of the US who used to live in New York. He went back to Acheh in July 2000 to investigate cases of human rights violations that include the involvement of Mobil Oil in giving facilities to the perpetrators of gross human rights violations in Acheh. He was kidnapped in broad daylight in August of that year and a month later his mutilated body was found wrapped in barbed wire. Such atrocities have been going on for the last 13 years in Acheh with thousands of victims and the related problems of refugees, displaced persons, single parents, widows and orphans. The impunity accorded security forces by the State and the lack of international pressure on Indonesia to respect human rights, is gearing up TNI activity in Acheh to a genocidal level. The international community, that unfortunately includes you, ladies and gentlemen leaders and shareholders of this giant Company Exxon Mobil, seem unconcerned with this reality. You are still eager to cooperate with the Indonesian government in keeping its killing machine, the TNI, well oiled, if you forgive me the pun.

The horrible 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the United States has caused the people of this great country, especially New Yorkers to live in panic and fear for their safety. The families of the victims have to live in sorrow for the loss of their loved ones. We cry with them in our heart, because only those who have experienced such wanton brutality could fully understand the pain. We have been suffering such pain for the last 13 years without any sign of a way out. The TNI is in the role of the terrorists in Acheh. At this very time, when the United States as the only remaining Super Power has set itself up as the champion of the fight against terrorism, it is very strange that it could not only tolerate the TNI, but also seek to help this unruly Indonesian apparatus to suppress budding democracy in Indonesia. Exxon Mobil is also working hard to influence public opinion in this country, along the lines that Indonesia deserves further assistance to support its activities in Acheh. Please do understand that for the people of Acheh, the TNI is the state apparatus that has gone berserk and has turned into a terrorist group that continues to oppress the innocents in our land.

I would like to take this opportunity, to represent my long suffering brothers and sisters in Acheh, to call on all of you as leaders and shareholders of Exxon Mobil to unblock your ears to our cries of pain. We call on you to stop your Company from hiring TNI killers to guard your premises. We, the poor villagers living around your rich properties in North Acheh, pose no danger to your Company's facilities or staff. Even the Free Acheh Movement has given their pledges to Exxon Mobil as well as to your Government that they have never attacked your Company and have no intention of doing so. We believe you have the power and the means to stop the atrocities perpetrated by the Indonesian security forces in the name of protecting your Company. Please listen to your heart, to your conscience as the good people of this great country, the United States of America, and let us live in peace in what remains of our own land.

Cut Zahara Hamzah, Board member of the International Forum for Acheh (IFA) This article is based on a presentation made at the 120th Annual Meeting of Shareholder on Exxon Mobil Cooperation in Dallas, Texas, USA, 29 May, 2002.

Testimony from a refugee from Acheh


My father was a headman of the village, but before that, in 1953, he was a Free Acheh Movement commander in our district. In 1986 the Indonesian military arrested him and a year after that my father told me their next target would probably be me.

On 20 August 1989, I left Acheh and my parents and went to Malaysia. On 1 September 1994, I applied for refugee status. On 1 April 1999 at 10.15pm the Malaysian police arrested me at a roadblock when they asked me for a Malaysian ID card and I didn't have one because I wasn't a Malaysian. I handed them an Achehnese ID Card and a letter from the United Nations High Commissioner stating that I had Refugee Status. The Police didn't accept it and put me in jail. Six days later a UNHCR officer met me and told me I was to go to New Zealand. I was freed from jail just 15 minutes before the aeroplane took off and on 18 April 1999 I arrived in New Zealand under an emergency provision as the first Achehnese refugee in New Zealand.

On 20 May 2003 at 9.15am, the second day of martial law, one of my brothers, Munzi, was killed by the military in front of a coffee shop. Many people saw this happen. According to information given to us by phone by a volunteer from a human rights group two weeks later, the military asked my brother where some GAM members were. My brother didn't know and nobody told them. Then the soldier asked for money, but my brother didn't have any as he was a student. Then the military accused him of being a GAM member (he wasn't) and killed him and another man. They also beat up at least fifty other men.

The situation in Acheh is critical now. It is a killing field. More than 2400 civilians have been killed by the Indonesian Military (TNI) and about 400 people have disappeared. A few months ago more than 300,000 civilians became refugees in local camps. The TNI would force a whole village to go to a refugee camp and then systematically go through the village house by house, destroying everything. Some of the military have become thieves. They also shot civilians after they couldn't find GAM members. On 4 December 2003 the aircraft Sukoi dropped 28 bombs near Banda Atjeh and in another region, the Nisam district, more than 32 bombs were dropped from two AV-10 Bronco jets.

Most Achehnese want independence. A good way to achieve this is by Referendum. I hope New Zealand and the International community can do something to end the conflict in Acheh before they kill us all.

Bakhtiar Amin, New Zealand 's first refugee from Acheh - peusangansb@hotmail.com

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