Aceh tsunami special, broadcast on December 26, 2005 | Asia Pacific

Aceh tsunami special, broadcast on December 26, 2005

Aceh tsunami special, broadcast on December 26, 2005

Updated 20 March 2012, 8:00 AEDT

Radio Australia and Radio Republik of Indonesia's Metropolitan English Service have co-produced a special program on the anniversary of the tsunami in Aceh province.

Guests include the head of the Indonesian military in Aceh, a leader of the Free Aceh Movement and those directly involved in looking after the welfare of tsunami survivors.

Presenters: Deborah Steele, news editor at Radio Australia and Irma Ichwari, program director at Radio Republik of Indonesia's Metropolitian English Service.

ICHWARI: It's one year ago today since the tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people.

Indonesia was the country worst affected, and Australia was the first country to offer aid.

So we're teaming up to look back at that tragedy and what's been achieved since, in terms of both the rebuilding process and the Aceh peace agreement.

In Aceh, the tsunami left some 169,000 people dead or missing. Another 500,000 were made homeless.

The tsunami damaged or destroyed 117 thousand private dwellings; 665 schools, 460 health facilities and close to a 1000 government offices holding documents relating to land titles, births and deaths.

But that was not all; 1500 kilometres of roads were either completely or partially destroyed and some 1900 bridges were washed away.

Among the journalists sent to Aceh to report on the horror and the devastation were Widi Kurniawan from Radio Republik of Indonesia and Hidayat Djajamihardja from Radio Australia's Indonesian service.

Widi, what struck you when you first arrived in Aceh?

KURNIAWAN: When I arrived in the night maybe at 2 am I smelt a bad smell near the airport. That smell came from a hundred bodies which were buried in mass graves. There were so many mass graves. In the river and the other area they could not be buried at the time because there were only a few people who volunteered to bury them. So when I saw, the bodies were like animals, people were crying and crying.

STEELE: When you arrived in Banda Aceh had anything prepared you for what you saw given that, by that stage it was a month on?

DJAJAMIHARDJA: The bodies were still lying in some corners of the buildings such as the Radio Republic of Indonesia studios. I went to see the studio head and was told "Come, I'll take you to the Record Library". It was still under mud and he said "six or eight of my staff are still there now buried".

ICHWARI: Mr Hidayat at the time you arrived there what did you think the government had done to help the people?

DJAJAMIHARDJA: I don't think the government by then was doing many things of significance, simply because the government personnel were not around. May of them disappeared and most of them and others were looking for their own families. I spoke to a primary school principal and she explained how people whom she used to know did not care or did not reply or did not answer to her call for help. Simply because they were dazed, walking, and then this principal said to me "that could have been the scenery of doomsday" because people had no intention to help. They were just holding what they had and walking aimlessly to a safer place.

STEELE: Widi what do you think will be your lasting memory of that visit to Banda Aceh?

KURNIAWAN: Me, I and my colleagues helped people to bury, many many buried including burying children, ten years, their father, his mother. Most of us crying after that.

ICHWARI: Widi Kurniawan from RRI and Hidayat Djajamihardja from Radio Australia's Indonesian service.

And you're listening to a special joint broadcast on the tsunami from Radio Australia and Radio Republik of Indonesia, RRI-MES 91.2 FM.

The trauma caused by the tsunami is hard to fathom for those of us without first-hand experience, but imagine this; a group of women, widowed by the tsunami, sitting on the steps of a mosque.

Radio Australia reporter Kanaha Sabapathy found the women reflecting on the tsunami as the will of God - afterall the mosque was the only building that survived the tsunami in the village of Lampukuk.

The village was once home to seven thousand people, but only 500 survived.

MOSQUE WOMEN: Translation....Her brother lost his wife and two children.

SABAPATHY: Have they been able to recover the bodies. Have they been able to get their loved ones back?

MOSQUE WOMEN: Translation....They couldn't find the bodies. The children were calling their fathers in the sea in the water "daddy daddy" in the sea.

SABAPATHY: What's the trauma been like for them?

MOSQUE WOMEN: Translation....That's why they sit here. The trauma disappears if they sit here -peaceful. But if they sit at home in the tents it is traumatic.

STEELE: And that was the voice of a translator explaining the plight of a group of women widowed by the tsunami.

To get an insight into how other tsunami survivors are coping, Irma spoke to Doctor Tommy Hendra from one of Indonesia's leading non government organisations, the PKPU.

ICHWARI: What are the real changes that can be seen from the people who live in Aceh post the tsunami?

DR HENDRA: I think very little. The facilities for the tsunami victims is very, very less. For example, housing, medical and most of them stay in barracks til now.

ICHWARI: What about the living standards such as clean water, housing?

DR HENDRA: Clean water for tsunami victims is enough. Most of them need permanent houses for living. The tsunami victims need one hundred thousand modern houses. We give economic development like motor boats and motor taxis.

ICHWARI: What will you aim to achieve in Aceh for the next year?

DR HENDRA: We concentrate on a training centre and permanent schools in Aceh and concentrate in development of the economy for the refugees.

STEELE: Doctor Tommy Hendra from one of Indonesia's leading non government organisations, the PKPU.

Irma also spoke to one of Aceh's community leaders, Haji Jamil - a religious leader, who's also a former member of parliament and a former member of the Indonesian military and he shares Doctor Hendra's concerns.

Irma what did Haji Jamil have to say?

JAMIL: Translation....According to him the recovery process is not running very smoothly especially for the people who live in refugee tents. Since now it is the rainy season so the people are flooded with water. And he said people expect the government and the NGOs to fulfill their commitment as soon as possible regarding many peoples lives. They hope the commitment from the NGOs and governments can run well in the fields.

ICHWARI: Do you think the peace process is making it a little easier for the tsunami recovery until now?

JAMIL: Translation....He said it's helping but not much and he also said it's helping in terms of the international NGOs and people and also the aid from the governments are not afraid. They will be no more clashes between GAM and TNI. So that they can focus more to the recovery.

ICHWARI: When I asked him about the condition of people in Aceh right now, he said the people are very peaceful and they hope it will last forever, so they can start to build their economy and earn a better education for their children. He also said they hope they can go to the mosque and pray peacefully even though the weather is not good and there also some floods in some areas. And when I asked him are they happy, is there any difference and he said it was like night and day. It was dark back then and now they can feel the light. He said the people feel free to go anywhere to visit relatives and to go to work like they never felt since 20 years ago. He said they are willing to do it because they are satisfied with the result and they want to keep it peaceful. The difference can also be seen he said in the relationship between TNI members and GAM members and so the people can see the good cooperation and good respect between TNI and GAM.

STEELE: Aceh religious leader Haji Jamil.

You're listening to a program on the anniversary of the tsunami; it's being broadcast across Asia and the Pacific via Radio Australia's shortwave service on our network of FM stations and by our relay partners, as well as on RRI MES 91.2 FM in Jakarta and on Radio National in Australia.

ICHWARI: The tsunami forced the Indonesian government and the rebel Free Aceh movement to strive for a negotiated settlement to a conflict which claimed 15 thousand lives over three decades.

In August the two sides signed a peace agreement in Helsinki.

The head of the Indonesian military, the TNI, in Aceh is Major General Supiadin. He's the commander of Iskandar Muda - and he says he's optimistic about the continuation of the peace process.

SUPIADIN: Translation...First and foremost peace has been created, the situation is very good where people can go anywhere at anytime within 24 hours without having to get any permit. Peace has been created that people now in general have been actively participating in economic life. And people have become involved in economic life like selling and buying things, become hawkers and opening small shops. And that has been created because of the peace that has been created following the tsunami and following the peace agreement. Now the most important thing is that the former GAM members now have returned to their villages and they have assimilated and they live with the local community without any fear and they have been involved in daily life without any hinderance. They've opened businesses and whatever they want to do without any hinderance.

STEELE: How does the TNI respond to criticisms that it has used the tsunami to quash support for GAM through the control of people relocated to refugee camps?

SUPIADIN: It's not true, it is a mistake if there are allegations that they are localised to quashed the support for GAM because those who live in the camps are the victims of the tsunami regardless where they are from. Normally they are localised closest to the place where they live, so that will enable them to work on their farms and so forth.

STEELE: Does the TNI ackowledge that it could have handled things better in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. Very soon after the tsunami the TNI resumed operations in Aceh. Do you regret that now?

SUPIADIN: Translation....What the TNI has done was executing emergency response operations for the restoration of the overland transportation, road and all the infrastructure. Regarding the military operation, we did carry out because military operation still exists and also because GAM was using the tsunami disaster to replenish their equipment and supplies. So the TNI also did the same.

ICHWARI: The head of the TNI in Aceh, Major General Supiadin.

Last month, the significance of peace agreement was demonstrated by the return to Aceh of one of the exiled leaders of the separatist rebel movement.

Bachtiar Abdullah had not been to Aceh for 25 years; since 1980 he had lived in Sweden - but he returned at the start of November for a very emotional visit - and spoke to Radio Australia.

BACHTIAR: I just feel great and I just can't believe my eyes that I am in Aceh right now. Words are not enough to explain and the feeling is undescribable. It's between a dream and reality.

Bachtiar Abdullah, speaking on his return to Aceh in November.

Since then, the Free Aceh Movement has fulfilled the terms of the August peace pact, surrendering its final batch of weapons and thousands of Indonesian troops have withdrawn from the province.

ICHWARI: So, one year after the horror of the tsunami, is Aceh now on the cusp of a peaceful future? Has the tsunami helped to bring to an end one of the longest running conflicts in Southeast Asia?

Last week Deborah spoke to Bachtiar Abdullah again - about his faith in the peace process.

BACHTIAR: Firstly on the positive side we have seen the peace process that has been going on swiftly with the monitoring of the MM and we have seen all these processes being implemented according to the schedule. As you know the first process was the release of political prisoners who were of some 1400, but the prisoners are yet to be released and it is a total of about more than 90 Acehenese prisoners. After this process then the new law has to be changed and this is still being worked out by different elements of the civil society and also GAM. If this new law is not in accordance with the MOU then we are afraid that this might even stop the whole peace environment here in Aceh.

STEELE: Have there been any indications that that might happen?

BACHTIAR: Well not yet so far because it has not yet been finalised. But what I mean is that....if they are going to leave without further monitoring the outstanding problem and challenges would not be able to be resolved.

STEELE: Do you think the government is committed to the peace process in Aceh?

BACHTIAR: So far we have seen commitment from both sides but we still have some of the processes in the future that has yet to be monitored and yet to be implemented. If we could commit ourselves, and I feel that they also have a commitment in this case because they have signed this agreement to get a result, I think things would work in the right direction.

STEELE: You're sounding rather more circumspect than you were in November when you returned to Aceh?

BACHTIAR: Well because the question of Aceh is a political issue and we have seen that from previous experiences. It's a great challenge when you are entering a political process to have a political change in Aceh. So these are things that we hope could be worked out.

STEELE: But the fact remains that had the tsunami not happened it's most unlikely that there would have been a peace process taking place in 2005 at all.

BACHTIAR: Yes the tsunami has brought Aceh in the eyes of the international community, the ongoing conflict that has been going on for more than 30 years, with some 15 thosand people who have died. Even during the tsunami itself you've known about the reports that happened on the ground whereby there was military operations and people got shot and things like that. And I guess I do agree that partly the tsunami has brought the people to the negotiation table and achieving this memorandum of understanding.

STEELE: Bachtiar Abdullah do you plan to stay in Aceh now or return to Europe?

BACHTIAR: At the moment I have still some things that I have to settle in Europe and this is the longest that I have been away from my family but I sure would like to come back after this.

ICHWARI: Bachtiar Abdullah from the Free Aceh movement.

And that brings to an end this special joint broadcast from Radio Australia and Radio Republic of Indonesia on the anniversary of the tsunami in Aceh.

I'm Irma Ichwari and I'm Deborah Steele.

Thanks for joining us.

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