NARRATOR: As night falls in the city of Banda Aceh, evening prayers in the Grand Mosque are the center of activity in this strict Muslim city. But soon after, religious ritual gives way to a more secular one: the night patrol of police and soldiers from the Indonesian military.
the province of Aceh is at war and this small region of 4 million people threatens to destabilize the worldís largest Muslim nation through a fierce push for independence.
Local rebel forces, called G.A.M. have been fighting for freedom here for over 25 years.
In response, the Indonesian government has flooded Aceh with troops, determined to hold power. They fear that if Aceh successfully breaks away, other parts of this vast and varied nation will follow. Acehís richness in natural resources and strategic location makes it a prize both sides are willing to fight for.
We came to here to find out more about this conflict that has ravaged the country side and shows no sign of ending.
Reports have painted Aceh as a hot spot for religious extremism, and the G.A.M. rebels as Al QaedaĖlike militants. Could the region become a new Afghanistan under the Taliban?
POLICEMAN (SUBTITLED): What are you doing here?
NARRATOR: Journalists are not always welcome to this war.
POLICEMAN (SUBTITLED):; Are you a spy?
NARRATOR: Interviews with officials are closely monitored and video cameras are viewed with suspicion on the street.
It is startling to watch such a rich and beautiful land yield the horrors of war, but death has become a daily occurrence here, in the towns and in the villages. And trapped in the cycle of violence is a devoutly Muslim populace.
But even in the midst of war, and in the aftermath of strident anti-Americanism elsewhere in the Muslim world, Aceh is in fact a warm and welcoming culture to outsiders. There have been no anti-Western demonstrations here. Instead, east accepts touches of West. Women in traditional tudung scarves play volleyball, and young students in Islamic schools learn English next to Arabic.
LITTLE GIRL: I want to speak in two languages, English and Arabic.
KIRA KAY, PRODUCER: What do you know about America?
LITTLE GIRL: The technology in America is the best, I hear that. America is the superpower!
KAY: Have you met a lot of Americans? Do they come here?
KAY: Am I one of the first ones youíve met?
NARRATOR: War and rebellion are not new to Aceh. Buried in a cemetery here are the bodies of Dutch soldiers killed fighting to maintain their 71-year colonial rule. Todayís rebels trace their struggle back to these original Acehnese guerillas and say their fight is the same.
SOFYAN: We have never had a historical, political or cultural relationship with Indonesia. We are not Indonesian. For us, Indonesia is a make-believe country that was formed but the Dutch and handed to a few people.
NARRATOR: In a place where little is as expected, we met political representatives of the G.A.M. rebel movement not in the jungle where the war is waged but in this small hotel room. The government has allowed them to live here for the last year, under a kind of house arrest. Their confinement has not lessened their resolve:
HAMNI: We will never feel tired or bored of fighting because it is our right and obligation to free this country.
KAY: Is it a Jihad?
SOFYAN: The meaning might be the same as Jihad but the purpose is different. In Aceh, we are not fighting to uphold our religion, we are fighting to uphold our sovereignty.
NARRATOR: Indeed, in Aceh, we found that jihad does not mean exporting religious extremism. Both the rebels and the Indonesian government are Muslim.
For the rebels, this war is a fight for independence and they reject any comparison between their movement and terrorists that make fundamentalism their rallying call.
Kamaruzaman: That accusation really insults us. It is a humiliation that we will never forgive. With the excuse of the war against terror, the Indonesian government associates our movement with terrorism and uses it to fight us.
The result, say the rebels, has been a brutal campaign by the Indonesian army against the people of Aceh 54 years of repression, torture and murder.
NURDIN: They put electricity, electric shock to your body. And they pull your nails.
NARRATOR: Nurdin Rahman says he knows first hand about abuses by the government. He was imprisoned for eight years by the military and says he was brutally tortured:
NURDIN: If they intend to abolish you then they torture you very badly with different methods, using knives or wood.
NARRATOR: Nurdin was lucky and was able to get out alive. He now runs a group that helps other victims of brutality. Over the years thousands of people in Aceh have been tortured and killed many for being alleged rebel members or sympathizers.
NURDIN: Almost every day we find five to seven bodies dumped somewhere.
NARRATOR: To understand how much the people of Aceh are suffering personally from this war, we drove hours into the countryside, to the heart of the conflict. Along the way we passed checkpoints and heavily armored military convoys. Thereís no doubt Aceh is a land under siege.
In a small village, we met three women who say they too suffered abuse at the hands of the military several years ago.
Rasheeda was suspected of giving food to the rebels. What happened after she was captured by government troops is difficult for her to talk about. She says she was repeatedly raped for over four months.
RASHEEDA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Once or twice a week. She was raped, and also she said because she didnít want it, the military cut her nipples.
KAY: The military cut her nipples? Yeah.
NARRATOR: Ummi says she too was tortured, although she like the other women insists she was never a rebel sympathizer.
UMMI (THROUGH INTERPRETER): She was tied...with chains.
KAY: Like this? Like this.
UMMI (THROUGH INTERPRETER): And then electric shock. Electric shock here, in the nose, in the ears, on the feet, in the vagina and her nipples.
TRANSLATOR: She canít even remember. She said, I was 40, I am not young anymore, my heart was beating so fast when the electric shock happened. What I remember was I fainted three times, and then I didnít remember anything. I feel my whole body was so, itís nothing, itís empty inside.
NARRATOR: Just down the road are the ruins of the prison where the women say they were tortured and raped. As we took these pictures a crowd assembled, eager to confirm the horrors they say occurred here.
TRANSLATOR AND OLDER WOMAN: Right behind the Rumah Gadong. See? That white house.
NARRATOR: This grandmother lives in a house right behind where the prison stood. She says she often heard screams in the night Ė and even saw bodies buried in the yard. All the villagers, she told us, knew that women were raped and men tortured inside those walls.
NARRATOR: After a change in government in 1999, the new president of Indonesia apologized to the people of Aceh for what had been done to them by the military. These women say they were offered a mere 100 dollars to compensate for their suffering.
BRIGADIER GENERAL DJALI YUSUF: There are still some minor mistakes here and there, but overall the people here are fond of my soldiers.
NARRATOR: We went to talk to Brigadier General Djali Yusuf, who is in charge of Indonesiaís 10,000-man armed force in Aceh. We asked him about human rights violations. He doesnít deny there have been abuses in the past and says he is now trying to control his men:
BRIGADIER GENERAL DJALI YUSUF: The preceding cases were not done by our institution, they were done by individuals. The presence of these individuals makes it difficult for us; even our own family is difficult to manage. The army, with soldiers coming from different educational backgrounds, race and lifestyle is even harder to manage.
NARRATOR: General Yusuf charges that the G.A.M. rebels are also carrying out atrocities against civilians.
BRIGADIER GENERAL DJALI YUSUF: They intimidate the people by using murder kidnaping, rape and looting. The GAM who do this are the so-called frontline GAM, they are people who are jobless, thugs and convicts. These are the ones that commit the brutal actions in the field.
NARRATOR: We were shown photos of atrocities the military says were perpetrated by G.A.M.
But the women of the village insist it is the military not the gam that are responsible for abuses and are skeptical that General Yusuf can impose restraint on his troops.
KAY: You know, we met yesterday with General Djali Yusuf who said that the abuses are in the past and they will now punish anyone who has done this or who might do this.
WOMAN: Impossible! There are no laws here anymore. Every day I still feel traumatized by what has happened to me. We have suffered enough! We beg the Indonesian military donít send troops anymore. But no one seems to listen and no one seems to care.
NARRATOR: And so, Indonesian troops remain a daily part of life in the villages of Aceh. On the main road back to the capital, we stopped at one of the many checkpoints to talk to the soldiers, most of them just kids a thousand of miles away from home. They were suspicious of foreign journalists.
Andar is the commander of this unit; he says heís only been on the job two weeks.
ANDAR (IN ENGLISH): My Country gave me a job. To make the situation ...here...to make better and better...to make people peace. Thatís all.
NARRATOR: These men are new at their job and idealistic about their mission. They bristle at accusations of wrongdoing.
SOLDIER: Everything GAM say is not true about military of Indonesia. Not true.
KAY: What do they say about the military thatís not true?
SOLDIER: They say not good. The military of Indonesia is very, very- kill people of Aceh. Itís notÖnot true.
KAY: Itís not true.
SOLDIER: Not true. You can ask child or people here, around here. They like us.
NARRATOR: The kids swarming around us did seem to take to the soldiers, at least on a personal level. But back in the village, many of the people voiced fear and even hatred towards the military.
VILLAGE MAN: What we are afraid is military and police, not GAM.
KAY: Youíre afraid of the military and police? Youíre not afraid of GAM?
TRANSLATOR: So, if the military or police came, even the coffee is still hot they just leave it because they are scared. They still feel the repressive of the military and we think that: We want independence.
KAY: He wants independence? Do they all want independence?
Crowd answers translator all together Merdeka.
NARRATOR: Merdeka, they say, independence. Again and again, what we heard was that the people here arenít fighting for religious reasons or Islamic ideals, they simply want to be free in their own land and free from violence. But they see no end to the conflict as long as the national government a thousand miles away in the capital Jakarta keeps sending troops to Aceh.
NURDIN: They donít learn that more they send the military here, the more people that get killed or tortured, the more hatred will be added in the heart of the people toward Jakarta.
NARRATOR: As in so many civil wars, the violence breeds memories that become their own reason for more violence. It is this pattern that fuels the conflict in Aceh, even more so than the struggle for land. This was made clear by the gam rebels themselves:
MOHAMMED: They took our fathers, our mothers, our wives and our commanders. They tortured all of them and raped them, even in front of us and our sons. Can you imagine the boys who saw their mothers and sister being raped by the military and killed sadistically? Then these boys joined GAM to take revenge for their beloved family.
NARRATOR: On our last day in Aceh we witnessed this cycle of violence firsthand. It is the job of the Red Cross to retrieve the bodies that are found each morning, no matter what side of the conflict they are on. A body had been discoveredÖ and we drove with them two hours into the mountains, where villagers were inspecting their latest casualty.
The military says he was a rebel. There was no way to verify his identity. What is clear is that his death is not unique here. And another generation is growing up in a war zone.
NURDIN: Now when we say we want to be master of our own territory, our own land, Jakarta sends troops to kill us. What rights do they have? Only because of the unification of Indonesia, then they have the rights? This must be solved.
NARRATOR: Meanwhile, from inside their command center, the military strategizes its next move against the rebels in order to hang on to this war torn province. In the hills, the guerillas plot their counterattacks and their continued push for independence. And from inside their hotel room, the gam representatives plan their next political move.
And for the people of Aceh, attempts at normal life are disrupted by reminders of the war around themÖand by the bodies discovered day after day.