Indonesia's Aceh province tense ahead of elections

Tension in Indonesia’s formerly war-torn province of Aceh has escalated ahead of April’s parliamentary elections, with 16 people killed and dozens of buildings and cars damaged in recent months, monitoring groups said on Monday.

Most casualties resulted from personal disputes, but several appear to be political assassinations, the World Bank’s Aceh Conflict Monitoring unit said in a report on its website.

The violence has reached “alarming levels and raised fears of an escalation” in the run-up to next month’s polls, the World Bank said.

Aceh, the northwestern most region of the vast archipelago, has been relatively calm since the government signed a peace deal with separatists in 2005, ending 29 years of fighting that left 15 000 people dead.

There has been scattered violence since then, but nothing like the level seen between December and February.

The World Bank says 16 people were killed—including four members of the Aceh Party, which represents the interests of former rebels, in what appear to be political assassinations.

Forty-seven other people have been injured and 17 buildings or vehicles damaged, it said, and political parties have been targeted at least 13 times in arson or grenade attacks.

About 171-million Indonesians have registered for the legislative election being contested by 38 parties and a presidential poll on July 8.

Most political observers expect general elections in the world’s third largest democracy to be peaceful, but Aceh is considered a possible flash point because of its long, troubled relationship with the central government.

Hatred still runs deep between forces of the Indonesian army and the former Aceh rebels now governing the territory.

“It’s absolutely critical to get better policing in Aceh because the tensions would go down if the perpetrators of the crimes were found,” said Indonesia security analyst Sydney Jones, a senior adviser to the International Crisis Group think-tank.

Another concern is that the government has discouraged international monitoring of the elections, Jones said, adding that violence may arise during vote counting if the outcome disappoints parties expecting landslide wins.—Sapa-AP

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