Occupies the northern part of the island of Sumatra, bordered by the Straits of Malacca and the Indian Ocean. Its area is 236,803 km2 and it capital is Bander Acheh. It is part of Indonesia.
Acheh-Sumatra is rich in resources. Acheh produces coffee, pepper, rice, tobacco, rubber and timber. It produces 50% of Indonesia's oil. Its minerals include gold, tin, platinum, molybdenum and coal.
The Achenese consider themselves to be distinct from the Javanese who control Indonesia. Java is the seat of Indonesian power. There are 25 million Achenese in Sumatra island, 5 million in Acheh itself. The Achenese language belongs to the Malay/Polynesian group.
In 700AD Islam arrived in Acheh. It was the first area in South East Asia to convert. A sultanate was established in 804. The Sultan presided over an important port on the Staits of Malacca, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
In 1602 the Dutch East India Company was formed to take advantage of the lucrative spice trade. An 1824 agreement with the British meant that Acheh fell under the Dutch sphere of influence. The Dutch invaded Acheh in 1873. They met strong resistance and did not succeed in completely subjugating the Kingdom. In fact, the fighting continued intermittently for 69 years.
In 1942 the Dutch withdrew from Acheh. However, their independence did not last long for in 1949 Acheh was included in the new state of Indonesia against its will. Troops were sent from Java to enforce this directive.
During the following years, the Achenese participated in an Islamic struggle to overthrow the secular government. Indonesia granted Acheh autonomy. Millions of Javanese transmigrated to Acheh-Sumatra due to overpopulation on their island.
In 1976 "Free Acheh" separatists declared independence. The Indonesian army employed ruthless tactics to extinguish the insurrection. Many Achenese villagers became innocent victims. Many more fled to Malaysia. The Malaysians deported many of the refugees back to Indonesia where they were imprisoned, tortured or executed.
The Achenese people believe they practise a more pure form of Islam than other Indonesians. However, they object to being compared with Iranian fundamentalists. For example, women are more dominant in Acheh society. The separtists believe the Achenese are not benefiting from the natural resources of their land. The separatists now include the whole island of Sumatra in their ambitions.
In post Suharto Indonesia, it is hoped that the Acheh-Sumatra question can be resolved.
Update 9/12/02: There has been outstanding progess on this issue. An agreement has been signed between the Indonesian government and the Achenese rebels. The main points of the agreement are that the rebels must disarm over the next few months and that autonomy will be granted to Acheh. Swiss intermediares will collect the weapons at locations known only to them. Elections will be held in 2004 but full independence, the ultimate aim of the rebels, has not yet been attained.
19/05/03:Negotiations have broken down and the Indonesian military have launched a major offensive against the separatists, including paratroopers dropping into offensive positions. The Indonesian government is saying the operation will last six months.
26/12/04:A devastating earthquake and Tsunami have strunk the region killing countless people and obliterating the area. Read more here.