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Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Aceh tense as elections near

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Aceh

Posters and flags of election candidates in Aceh.
Campaigning is under way in Aceh ahead of the elections

The road where Abu Karim died is as pretty as a picture - a place where flowering branches hang over the dusty road and neighbours gather to while away the afternoon.

There's a small mosque on the corner, and a tiny coffee stall sits tucked between the small, neat houses. It's very quiet.

The forecourt outside Abu Karim's house is blackened with patches of rubber, where the wheels of his car spun and burned as he sat dying at the wheel.

He had been shot twice in the head by unknown gunmen, just a few weeks before parliamentary elections.

The police have been up and down this little street several times. No one, it seems, saw anything that might help catch his killers.

His neighbour, Sooratnawati, helped take him to hospital the night he was shot. She told me she thinks it strange the police have not found the people who killed him.

Maybe they're hungry or don't have a job... it's not political.
Farid Ahmad, Aceh police spokesman

"Maybe it's because there were no witnesses," she said. "And I think it's weird that there were no witnesses but what can I say? Everyone said they didn't see anything."

Inside the house Abu Karim's wife, Cut Dede, watches nervously over her four-year-old son. Like many people here she is in no doubt this was a political killing.

Aceh Party

Abu Karim was a former guerilla in Aceh's independence struggle. That struggle came to an end with a peace deal, signed in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 tsunami.

The deal saw the rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gam) give up their claim to independence in return for far-reaching autonomy and the chance to form a political party.

Indonesia map

Aceh is now gearing up for parliamentary elections in April. For the first time ever, local parties will be able to contest the polls in this province. That includes the former rebels in the new Aceh Party who are predicted to do very well.

Abu Karim's death is one of several recent attacks against the former rebels and their new political party. Three men have died, and one has been injured in the shootings.

Grenades have landed in Aceh Party offices, and campaigning has been interrupted on several occasions.

But Aceh's police spokesman, Farid Ahmad, is adamant: the killings have nothing to do with politics.

Instead, he says, the motive was most likely in-fighting between the former guerillas, many of whom have failed to reintegrate properly.

"The people that did this," he tells me, "maybe they're hungry, or don't have a job and so they use their weapons to find food. It's not political."

Army security

Whoever killed Abu Karim, his death is feeding tensions in Aceh ahead of the elections.

Rumours pointing towards the involvement of groups linked to the Indonesian army are unsubstantiated, but potent nonetheless.

Indonesian soldier shows his guns.
Soldiers say their mission is to ensure security

And they come at a time when the army is quietly repositioning itself back in Acehnese villages.

Down a rugged track in one sleepy village we found nine young soldiers holed up in an abandoned house. They told me they had lived there for three and a half months, patrolling the nearby villages in case of any problems.

"Elections in other places sometimes end in violence," they told me, "so particularly in this area, where there was conflict in the past, there's a need to make sure things will be secure here".

But according to the peace deal, this kind of security is not what the army's for. At Aceh's tiny airport, we found the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari - the architect of that peace deal, known as the Memorandum of Understanding, or MoU.

I asked him what he thought of the army going back into the villages. "That's totally against the MoU," he said.

"The MoU is very clear - the army had to remove itself from the villages and focus on external defence. We have to be careful that we don't create similar sorts of situations that existed during the conflict years, otherwise there's a risk of intimidation."

The Aceh Party has vetoed any mention of independence on the campaign trail.

But some in the army are reported to be worried that that is the new party's true agenda. With polling day less than a month away, there's a nervousness in the air.

As one young politician here put it: people think these elections are the end of Aceh's peace process. Actually, they're the beginning.



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SEE ALSO
Aceh's rebels turn politicians
30 Oct 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Aceh guerrilla leader flies home
11 Oct 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Ex-rebel becomes Aceh governor
08 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Indonesia
04 Mar 09 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Indonesia
05 Mar 09 |  Country profiles

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