Grenade Injures Five in Aceh

BANDA ACEH ~ Five people were injured when a grenade was thrown at a cafe owned by the main party of Aceh’s former separatist fighters ahead of next month’s elections, police said on Thursday.

The attack happened late on Wednesday at the roadside coffee stall belonging to the Aceh Party in Lhokseumawe, 180 kilometers southeast of Banda Aceh, police said.

“Two unidentified men on motorcycles threw a grenade last night against a coffee stall belonging to Aceh Party official,” Lhokseumawe police chief Zulkifli said.

Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, was the scene of a three-decade separatist conflict that claimed more than 15,000 lives before the rebels signed an power-sharing deal with Jakarta in 2005.

Grenade attacks, kidnappings and other low-level violence directed at political parties have been fueling fears of a rise in violence ahead of the April 9 polls.

Security analyst Sidney Jones, of the International Crisis Group, said that after a spate of murders of former rebel fighters earlier this year she was convinced the province was on a “collision course” with renewed conflict.

But she said the recent appointment of a well-respected police chief, as well as visits in February by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Finnish peace negotiator Martti Ahtisaari, had helped calm tensions.

“Both of those visits, but particularly President Yudhoyono’s, seemed to have a direct impact on the behavior of both sides,” she told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the former rebels and the military stationed in Aceh.

“In particular, people who heard (Yudhoyono’s) speech interpreted it as a direct slap against the military.”

About a week later the military held an emergency court martial of seven soldiers who had been arrested for pulling down Aceh Party campaign flags, she said.

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