At the height of the 1999 NATO bombings of Serbia in defence of Kosovo, a fleeting international news broadcast drew attention to a demonstration of local activism thousands of miles away. Somewhere on the island of Sumatra, villagers and activists had managed to draw huge letters on an expanse of roadway, rendering them visible from the air. ‘NATO' the message said in English, ‘Save us as well'. The site was Aceh, and the then emerging notion of ‘liberal interventionism' was not lost on people looking for a way out of repression and protracted armed violence in their homeland. The regional jurisdiction of NATO was of course inappropriate to Aceh and the two situations are obviously very different. Moreover many people outside of Indonesia were not yet familiar with the conflict that had raged there for years.
And yet a government in exile for Aceh sat in Stockholm, Sweden, while a government in situ in Jakarta was undergoing historical and massive change from single party dictatorship to a multi-party democracy, with reformasi on a scale never before seen in the region. Five years after this local appeal to the outside world, Aceh would hit the headlines for a different reason, due to devastation incurred by the tsunami of late December 2004.