Subject: Bloody Pre-Election Violence In Aceh [An Op-Ed By George Junus Aditjondro]

The Jakarta Post Monday, February 16, 2009

Bloody Pre-Election Violence In Aceh

George Junus Aditjondro, Jakarta

Political violence in the northern tip of Sumatra has taken its toll on the neighboring provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh. Unprecedented in Indonesia, the speaker of the North Sumatra Legislative Council, Abdul Aziz Angkat, died in the wake of a public demonstration on Feb. 3.

Political protests unleashed by the Medan tragedy have unfortunately overshadowed the political killings that took place in Aceh on the same day.

At midnight, Abu Karim, a candidate from the Aceh Party for the provincial legislature, was shot to death in his car while driving home to Pulo Kiton, Bireuen.

Within 12 hours, two other members from the Aceh Transition Committee (KPA), the organization established to accommodate former Free Aceh combatants, M. Nur and Zakaria, were shot in their car in Aceh Besar by two motorcycle riders. Nur died on the spot, while Zakaria was hospitalized.

These were the latest victims of the pre-election intimidation against the Aceh Party (PA), the political party established by former Free Aceh combatants.

For the last two years, numerous PA offices and residences of PA leaders in several districts in Aceh have been reportedly attacked, set on fire, had grenades thrown at them and, in one case, a bomb was found in the fishpond at the residence of the Pidie parliament speaker.

One of the districts where PA candidates have suffered the most intense intimidation is Bener Meriah in the Gayo highlands, one of the strongholds of the pro-Jakarta militia organization, Fatherland Defenders (PETA). Last January in Bener Meriah and its neighboring district, Central Aceh, 20 of the PA candidate's billboards were vandalized, scored with the Indonesian Communist Party initials (PKI) and sickle-and-hammer symbols.

These incidents took place at dawn in many villages along the Takengon to Bireuen road. Several perpetrators were caught red-handed in Simpang Lokop in Wih Pesam subdistrict, Bener Meriah on Jan. 28.

Intimidation against PA candidates and against villagers to discourage them from voting for the PA has not only involved PETA members, but allegedly also local civilians and security officials. However, the Aceh Party is not the only local political party that has suffered from pre-election violence. The Aceh People's Party (PRA), a local political party set up by former student activists, the Aceh Sovereignty Party PDA) and the Prosperous and Safe Aceh Party (PAAS) have also experienced the vandalizing of their billboards and banners, as well as intimidation against their party leaders.

With the increasing pre-election violence, Aceh Governor Irwandy Yusuf has appealed for international election observers, who will monitor the forthcoming elections, to come to the province as soon as possible.

The governor has written to President Yudhoyono and to the European Union and repeated his appeal in a statement to the local newspaper, Serambi Indonesia.

Considering the inadequate national concern for the ongoing pre-election violence in Aceh, the international community should urgently respond to this very sound appeal.

The writer has been observing the economic and political developments in Aceh closely since early 2007.

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