Aceh rebels ambush VIP convoy

Separatists attack convoy carrying governor, injuring a police commander seriously; peace talks now in doubt.

Aceh separatist rebels attacked a convoy carrying provincial governor Abdullah Puteh, injuring a local police commander seriously and throwing ongoing peace initiatives into doubt.

Police Inspector-General Ahwil Lutan said Thursday’s ambush on the convoy in the strife-torn province would invite ‘strong retaliation’ from security forces.

‘We cannot just do nothing,’ he told The Straits Times. ‘We are going to hunt them down and make sure our troops are not exposed to any further attacks.’

The three-star general was speaking from Medan in North Sumatra, where he is part of a police task force investigating the incident.

He said that 30 separatists had staged the attack when the convoy was on its way to Bireun district, about 150 km from the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.

Governor Abdullah escaped unscathed. But North Aceh district police chief Sunardi was not so lucky.

He was reportedly shot in the head and was flown to Medan for an emergency operation. He is now recovering after being listed in critical condition earlier.

The latest violence followed almost-daily attacks in Aceh where patrol posts, district offices and high-profile academics and politicians have been targeted.

While there have been attacks on police and military officers in the past, this was the first against a high-ranking official in years.

The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) claimed responsibility.

Reports quoted local separatist commander Amri Abdul Wahab as saying: ‘This is a warning to the military and police to stop hurting the Aceh people.’

Analysts said that given GAM’s defensive posture over the last year, especially after the killing of former chief Teungku Abdullah Syafiie and the build-up of Indonesian troops in the province, Thursday’s strike was a signal that it would not cave in to pressure from Jakarta.

Military analyst Kusnanto Anggoro from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said: ‘They are trying to heighten tensions. They are telling the Indonesian government to forget about peace talks.’

The attack came ahead of plans for a fresh round of peace talks between Jakarta and GAM later this month.

Mr Kusnanto said the attack would justify the military’s bid for tougher action against GAM. The generals have been pushing for martial law in the area but agreed reluctantly to try dialogue as an option until December.

The military, while not directly affected by Thursday’s attack, would now see an opportunity to step up calls for a crackdown.

An army general said: ‘We should not be having peace talks with bandits and murderers. But we cannot do anything unless the politicians give us the green light to go in and wipe them out.’

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