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Are GAM Weapons Ending Up in the Hands of Drug Syndicates?

No one knows exactly how many guns leftover from the Aceh conflict are still out there.
GAM rebels. Photo: WIkimedia Commons/ Ministry of Defense

A recent drug bust in Medan, North Sumatra, exposed a hidden consequence of Indonesia's fight to quell Islamic insurgencies: the black market sale of assault rifles.

Police officers discovered an AK-47 assault rifle in the Medan home of a suspected drug trafficker named Fidel Husni during a chaotic raid that ended with two alleged drug dealers dead and three more in handcuffs. Much of the haul was typical for these kinds of raids—crystal meth, Ecstasy, and "Happy Fives"—but the heavy weaponry stuck out. Police weren't used to seeing assault weapons on the streets, or in the hands of suspected drug dealers.


But Brig. Gen. Eko Daniyanto, the director of the National Police's criminal investigations narcotics unit, had some ideas about where the assault rifle came from.

"According to our analysis, this weapon was used in the Aceh conflict by GAM," Eko told local media. "We confirmed that those weapons are genuine and organic, not homemade."

The Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, waged an insurgency against the central government for decades before the rebels signed a ceasefire in 2005. The rebels, who were fighting for an independent Aceh, were heavily armed thanks to an arms smuggling ring that brought assault rifles into the province from as far away as Vietnam and Cambodia.

In 2009, GAM rebels voluntarily handed over their guns, watching as international observers cut them to pieces. Indonesian officials said, at the time, that GAM only had about 840 weapons, a shockingly small number considering the fact that the insurgency lasted nearly three decades.

Five years later, as local police struggled to contain a particularly violent election, authorities admitted that there were probably 800-1,000 weapons still left over from the war. No one knows the exact number of firearms used in the conflict, but since the ceasefire, police have destroyed 973 weapons—a figure that already exceeds the official estimates. And more keep coming in.

These weapons are a common fixture in Aceh's crime statistics. Over a four month period, human rights monitors recorded as many as 14 shootings in Aceh. Last month, a local man was shot when as many as four assailants opened fire on his home.

These numbers aren't that extreme by the standards of countries like the Philippines or the United States. But Indonesia doesn't have a national gun culture, and gun crimes are shocking rare in this nation of 255 million people.

But Aceh, and North Sumatra, may just be in the perfect location for a higher-rate of gun violence. Not only are there possibly hundreds of weapons out there unaccounted for, the region's location right along the Straits of Malacca make it a prime spot for traffickers, said Aryos Nivada, an Aceh security expert.

"Aside from the leftover conflict weapons circulating, Aceh's geographical location—flanked between the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean—opens up a lot of opportunities for weapons smuggling by sea," he told VICE Indonesia.