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Rebel Politics

2006-02-19 by RobinL

By: Danny Hatfield

South Asia has never been an area of stable government; the last three decades in Sri Lanka and Aceh, Indonesia have been no exception as insurgency groups have battled the government for power. The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has battled with the Indonesian government since they came to power. Since 2000, the idea of peace in the region began diminishing as ceasefires and other attempts for peace failed. A Sri Lanka insurgency group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), had been subjected to similar relations with their government as they were engaged in a military standoff with the Sri Lanka government. When the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami struck, both nations saw devastation as the causality rates were estimated at 164,000 and 35,000 in Aceh and Sri Lanka respectively (Steamer, 2005). This devastation brought much international press as well as aid programs to both nations. Under the same circumstances and pressures, these nations couldn’t ave acted any differently. GAM immediately began working towards a resolution with their government while LTTE immediately resumed their full-fledged war. In this essay I’m going to examine why these groups acted so differently under such similar circumstances and how the political effects of each country have changed international relations drastically.

Although the nations were struck by the same tsunami, they were subjected to a varying degree of issues meaning while they had the same events happen the devastation affected each area differently. The tsunami caused more destruction in Aceh then in Sri Lanka as seen by the death totals which allowed Aceh to receive more international aid. However, the main differences in their responses to the tsunami lies in the style of each organization and the return of investment they get from peace. LTTE and GAM are drastically different in the style of their military, source of income, and relationship with the community.

The LTTE is an intimidation based organization that uses force and fear tactics to create a state of trepidation in Sri Lanka. They have a centralized military with a commander and a strong base of foot soldiers. There is a clear organization of power with plenty of devoted members. They have been reported to use suicide bombers and air force attacks to demonstrate their power (Shaw, 2006). They share characteristics with many terror organizations around the world. GAM uses completely contrary military tactics as they endorse a decentralized military. They divide Aceh into territories and have a squad in charge of each one. GAM doesn’t have a dominating military like LTTE so instead of forcing recruits in their local territory to join they rely on a grassroots effort which has brought a consistent number of citizens who believe in their efforts.  Citizens of Aceh actually believe in what they are doing, contrary to the LTTE, so support has been consistent and they have been able to survive.

Income is the single largest factor in keeping these terrorist movements alive, for without capital they couldn’t afford any military supplies which is what makes them so powerful. The LTTE has existed for decades and in that time they have created a steady and gargantuan income from international business enterprises. Since they have turned to corporations for capital, they haven’t found a need from the local populations in Sri Lanka to collect a tax. This flow of money has exceeded any money that could be obtained by taxing their members, for they lander money through many different and ever changing nonprofit organizations (Beardsley, 2009). For this reason, we can infer that the LTTE will make decisions that benefit the movement and its leadership much more than they benefit the local population. GAM does not have as much substantial income because they rely on the willingness of their local populations to support their efforts and provide the taxation they wish for. The main difference in these two organizations source of income is where they receive it. The LTTE does it all independently of their country and local population whereas GAM directly relies on local compliance and support. Obviously, this makes GAM concerned with public opinion and lends them to make decisions that benefit the public; contrary, the LTTE operates with complete disregard for the citizens of their region and actually relies on their being conflict to fuel their groups motivation to continue fighting.
A rebel group’s relationship with the community is simply dictated by the return of investment they can get by their relations. A group that is less dependent on the surrounding community is more likely to exploit the people, for they need no support to implement their will. The LTTE is a prime example of this as they wreak terror all over Sri Lanka with no regard for the community. In contrast, GAM relies on their community for support which is one of the monumental factors in what makes these groups different. Overtime we could expect the LTTE to have coercive monopolistic tendencies and will exploit the people and the opportunities in conflict. Although GAM will exploit the local population for taxes to keep their movement going, they do not exploit to the extent that the LTTE does which is why their people revere them more. This can be seen in recent elections in the area. A GAM ticket was formed and received monumental support. The elections resulted in GAM getting the majority in Aceh’s parliament seats thus allowing them to implement their will via political forum (Beardsley, 2009). Their achievements in the democratic process demonstrate how the Acehnese people have taken to and admired their influence; in addition, GAM relies on a grassroots movement for recruiting.  Due to their reliance on the local population, they maintain fewer demands, provide public works, and profit from less conflict contrary to the LTTE.

The return of investment from peace was the deciding factor in the groups’ response to the peace efforts following the tsunami. Since the LTTE enforces their will and has substantial capital annually arriving from their international corporations, they benefited more by keeping the peace efforts out of Sri Lanka. While it would help the population if they could ceasefire to make their country more appealing for aid, the LTTE didn’t want such immense exposure because of the dangers it would cause for their business. In fact, they boycotted the 2006 elections which resulted in their counterpart winning and continuing to wage war against them (Ellemen, 2007). It is obvious this insurgency is fueled by war for they choose to bring harsher conditions upon themselves than necessary. On the other hand, GAM is in harmony with their community and relies on them for money and support. In their history, they have always benefitted more from working for the community then enforcing their personal motives. The armed conflict they’d been battling with the Indonesian government had killed 20,000 of their citizens and they wished to stop the bloodshed (The Asian Tribune [AT], 2005). It’s no surprise they saw that their community would benefit more from them finding peace so that international organizations would aid in Aceh. That drove them to find a solution with their government as they agreed to an informal cease fire for 5 to 10 years (AT, 2005). Since then they have made monumental strides in the democratic process and have actually made the voice of their organization heard in government.

Some people see the tsunami as the reason for peace in Aceh; however, GAM wasn’t eliminated or wiped out from the water because many of their soldiers and artillery were stored in the jungle and mountainous areas which means they weren’t forced to find peace from devastation. Instead, the tsunami altered the environment in which both groups operate bringing exposure and many foreign non-government organizations to the area. The Sri Lankan insurgency set up corporations which any foreign donors must go through if they wished to help. This meant all the aid money was controlled by them and caused many corporations to deny funding to the area. They even went as far as to refuse drinking water from the Sri Lankan government. (Beardsley, 2009)  It’s interesting that GAM and LTTE didn’t just respond differently to the tsunami but completely opposite as GAM opened their doors ensuring protection to anyone that came in the region to help. The reason these groups acted so differently is because the fundamentals of each groups is polar. While on the surface it appears both groups are fighting for succession and independence for their region, they are doing it for drastically opposite reasons. GAM is trying to create an independent region to take care of the Acehnese people and have a benevolent relationship with Indonesia. Their separatist goals stop with Aceh whereas the LTTE is trying to expand rapidly without stopping.  They want to be recognized as another nation and then create an empire by taking over surrounding areas. In the end, the groups have different motives and characteristics and both responded to the tsunami efforts to benefit their insurgency.

A formal Ceasefire Agreement is the Basis for Future Talks. (2005, February 02). The Asian Tribune. P. 1.

Beardsley, K. (2009). Rebel organization as predatory organizations. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 53(4), 1-25. Retrieved Nov. 3,2010, from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

Ellemen, B. (2007). Waves of hope: The US navy’s response to the tsunami in Northern Indonesia. Naval War College Press, 11(5) , 1-134. Retrieved Nov. 3,2010, from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

Shaw, R. (2006). Disaster prevention and management. An International Journal, 15(1), 1-216. Retrieved Nov.3,2010, from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

Steamer, C. (2005). Aid commitments to the tsunami-affected countries as of 21 February 2005. Asian Economic Papers, 12(6), 1. Retrieved Nov. 3,2010, from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

United States, Gov. (2007). Foreign assistance : USAID signature tsunami reconstruction efforts in Indonesia and Sri Lanka exceed initial cost and schedule estimates, and face further risks : Report to congressional committees. U.S Government Accountability Office, 7(3) , 1-5. Retrieved Nov. 3,2010, from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

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