Guns and Rivalries Create a Lethal Brew in Aceh
The holes on the walls of a small coffee shop in North Aceh have yet to be patched up. A reminder, locals say, of the string of violence that has hit the province during the past six months.
Suliadi, a 37-year-old transmigrant worker at a local plantation, died at the shop after a group of armed men opened fire on New Year’s Day. Just a day before, another armed group wreaked havoc in areas around Banda Aceh, killing eight people and seriously wounding six more.
But the terror in Aceh was just beginning. There would be two other shootings the following month in East Aceh, although no one was hurt in these incidents.
Aceh has enjoyed an uneasy peace since the armed rebel group Free Aceh Movement (GAM) disbanded following a peace treaty with the government in 2005. The treaty ended more than 30 years of fighting that had killed thousands of people in the resource-rich province.
But convincing former combatants to surrender their arms has proved difficult, with many continuing to keep the weapons that were in circulation during the secessionist struggle. Former GAM fighters, believed to number about 3,000, have been promised Rp 25 million ($2,700) each for giving up their weapons. Fewer than 1,000 have complied.
Throughout last year, police in Aceh discovered at least 43 firearms along with 7,000 rounds of ammunition and dozens of grenades in a series of raids. Aceh Police Chief Insp. Gen. Iskandar Hasan predicted that there were between 800 to 1,000 firearms still in circulation in Aceh.
After the series of shootings, police intensified their efforts to find the remaining illicit weapons, but that has resulted in the discovery of just six more firearms.
Activists and security analysts have tied the recent spate of violence with the April gubernatorial election, which delivered a landslide victory to Zaini Abdullah, the former foreign minister of the GAM. Police arrested eight people believed to be responsible for the shooting, three of them former GAM combatants and sympathizers of the Aceh Party, founded by former GAM rebels. Zaini’s victory created a split among Aceh’s political elite, with many raising accusations of foul play and intimidation.
Analysts have also seen a recurring pattern. Violence occurred during the 2009 legislative election and the 2012 gubernatorial election, creating anxiety over what the 2014 elections have in store.