It worked. By the end of the campaign's first week, at least seven real press vehicles had to brave a hail of bullets. Then, as journalists began to report on the mounting military atrocities against civilians, several reportersIndonesian and foreignwere interrogated by the police or army, and at least three received death threats. The 54 Indonesian journalists "embedded" with various T.N.I. units fared no better. They arrived in Aceh frightened, partly because they wore military uniforms and were indistinguishable from the troops and partly because their military keepers had told them GAM knew all of their names and intended to assassinate them. Foolishly, I had assumed the presence of embeds might curb the worst excesses of the troops. Fat chance. Two embed teams have witnessed T.N.I. atrocities and been warnedin one case, on pain of deathnot to report them. "Before, the embeds were afraid of GAM," says an Indonesian colleague in Lhokseumawe in northern Aceh. "Now, they're more afraid of the T.N.I."
The brutal, unchecked crackdown in Aceh is transporting Indonesia back to the dark days of the Suharto dictatorship, exposing the military's reformist claims of recent years as a sham. With the Aceh campaign entering its third week, T.N.I.'s strategyif that's the wordis shockingly clear. First, saturate the benighted countryside with trigger-happy soldiers and flush out any GAM suspects on a tsunami of civilian blood. Second, frighten into silence anyone who dares to report on the gory consequences, such as the summary execution of eight young men and boys at Peusangan in northern Bireun district. The Indonesian government has told foreign journalists and aid workers to stay out of the province, because it does not want Aceh's plight to be internationalized as East Timor's was. But reporters are not the only ones who have been intimidated. Fearful of reprisals from men in uniform, morgue workers in Aceh now write "loss of blood" as the cause of death on corpses delivered with execution-style head wounds. Meanwhile, in Jakarta, the office of leading human-rights activist Munir, one of the lone voices against the campaign, was trashed by Pemuda Panca Marga, a military-backed youth group that most people associated with the Suharto regime and assumed had died with it.
With GAM now almost irrelevant to Aceh's future and without anyoneJakarta, the media, activists, aid workers, foreign governmentsto bear witness, the military has been free to launch what many Acehnese feel is the endgame for their people. Part of this includes the replacement of the province's 114 subdistrict chiefs with retired soldiers, which would give the military a stranglehold over the province and allow the uninterrupted plunder of natural resources such as timber. It is a future the generals would wish upon other parts of resource-rich Indonesiafor example, restive Papua provinceand one that appears inevitable considering the lack of protest or even debate over their blood-soaked Aceh adventure.