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Cablegate: Disputed Election Sparks Violence in Aceh

VZCZCXRO7295
OO RUEHBZ RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHJA #2423 2470930
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 040930Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY JAKARTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6053
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 1710
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1100
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 0935
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1333
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0730

UNCLAS JAKARTA 002423

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR EAP, EAP/MTS, EAP/MLS, DRL/PHD, INR/EAP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINS PINR KDEM ID
SUBJECT: Disputed election sparks violence in Aceh


1. (U) This is a joint Medan - Jakarta message.

2. (U) This message is Sensitive but Unclassified -- Please handle
accordingly.

3. (SBU) Summary: Clashes broke out at the inauguration of the new
regent for Southeast Aceh District on September 1. A dozen
demonstrators were arrested, 16 people were injured, and a local
government office was torched. At the center of the conflict is a
former regent who has refused to accept defeat in an election. The
violence is localized and does not threaten the peace accord. End
Summary.

Turbulence in SE Aceh
---------------------
4. (U) On September 1, Governor Irwandi Yusuf installed Hasanuddin
Beruh (Sanu) as the new regent (the highest level local official) of
Southeast Aceh District (Agara). Despite the presence of more than
200 riot police (Brimob), the event was marred by violence when a
mob of several thousand seeking to disrupt the event clashed with
police. By the end of the day, the budget and planning office had
been burned, a dozen demonstrators had been detained, and 16
people--including six police officers-had been injured. The
situation returned to normal on September 2. The Free Aceh Movement
(GAM) played no role in the conflict. (Note: GAM and the Indonesian
government signed a peace accord in August 2005.)

5. (U) The violence was not wholly unexpected. Ever since the
December 2007 local elections, demonstrations and conflict have been
commonplace in the district. The conflict has intensified during
the past several months, however. Since July, several government
offices, a primary school, and a market have been burned and the
regent's office was attacked with a hand grenade.

A Tarnished Former Regent
-------------------------
6. (SBU) Observers uniformly blame the violence on former regent
Armen Desky. When he was regent, Desky and his family treated the
district like a fiefdom, according to contacts, and members of the
clan occupied every significant government position in the district.
Opponents accuse Desky of looting the budget by steering government
contracts to firms controlled by his family and he has been directly
implicated in several major illegal logging cases.

7. (SBU) Despite his murky reputation, Desky was a leading candidate
in the December 2007 local elections because of his seemingly tight
control over the district and his campaign's very deep pockets.
According to election day vote counts at polling stations, however,
Sanu won the election soundly, receiving more than 25 percent of the
vote in the multi-candidate field.

A Disputed Election
-------------------
8. (SBU) Several weeks after the election, district-level election
officials reported results which had implausibly shifted in favor of
Desky. Observers and journalists cried foul, and the provincial
election commission ordered that all ballots be sent to Banda Aceh
for a recount. Election officials in Banda Aceh ultimately declared
Sanu the winner.

9. (U) Having lost the battle with the provincial election
commission, pro-Desky district-level election officials turned to
the courts. A local court found in favor of Desky, but this ruling
was eventually overturned by the provincial court in Banda Aceh. In
early August, the Ministry of Home Affairs ordered Sanu's
installation as regent.

Localized Conflict
------------------
10. (SBU) According to reports, Desky and his supporters still
refuse to acknowledge that he lost the election. This means that
the new regent will face continued intransigence and probably more
turbulence. Given that GAM is not involved and the GOI is taking a
largely positive role in trying to tamp down the tension, the
situation in SE Aceh--while unstable--does not threaten the peace
accord.

HUME

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