Achinese Rebellion (1953–1959)PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Acheh’s Muslim rebels vs. the Republic of Indonesia
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Northern Sumatra
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Indonesia, having finally won independence from the Dutch, sought to consolidate the republic by annexing Acheh; Acheh’s Muslim majority, desiring a strict theocracy, fought to maintain autonomy from the republic.
OUTCOME: Acheh lost its independence but maintained autonomy in religious matters and over local customs and law.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:Unknown
CASUALTIES: Very limited
In the fall of 1953 Achmed Sukarno (1901–70), first president of the three-year-old Republic of Indonesia (see INDONESIAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE), announced his plans to annex the small independent state of Acheh, or Achin (now Atjeh), which lay in northeastern Sumatra. Devoutly Muslim, the Achinese feared a loss of religious autonomy because Sukarno, although Muslim himself, was a strict secularist. Wanting to maintain a theocracy, they vehemently opposed the annexation. Led by Acheh’s military governor, Tengku Daud Beureuh (1906–87), the fundamentalist Muslims rose in open revolt on September 20, 1953, attacking army bases and police stations in an attempt to garner enough additional firepower to stage a full-scale rebellion.
Failing to foment the general revolt they had planned, the Achinese waged intermittent guerrilla warfare for the next four years before a cease-fire was agreed to in March 1957. Sukarno declared Acheh a separate province, but this concession provoked other provinces to rebel, hoping for a similar limited sovereignty of their own (see INDONESIAN WARS). Recognizing that the Indonesian forces were now stretched thin, the Achinese rebels renewed hostilities. Sukarno was forced to the bargaining table in 1959, this time establishing Acheh as a “special district” of Indonesia with full autonomy in matters of religion and local law. This arrangement endured until 1989, when a Free Acheh Movement was formed and turned militant. For more than a decade, guerrilla violence was rampant, resulting in an estimated death toll of some 5,000 on both sides before the Acheh guerrillas concluded a cease-fire on June 2, 2000.
Further reading: Bernard Dahm, Sukarno and the Struggle for Indonesian Independence (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983); C. L. M. Penders, The Life and Times of Sukarno (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974).