Grenade explosion injures
five in Aceh

Violence erupted again in Aceh ahead of next month's legislative elections, after a grenade was thrown at a coffee stall, injuring five people.

The attack took place late Wednesday at the Integration Coffee Shop at the Alue Kala intersection in Lhokseumawe, 180 kilometers southeast of provincial capital Banda Aceh, said Lhokseumawe Police chief Sr. Comr. Zulkifli.

"Two unidentified men on motorcycles threw a grenade last night at a coffee stall owned by an Aceh Party official," he said.

He identified the five injured victims as Muhammad Raden, 32, Munawir, 30, Muhammad Ombin, 37, Syukri, 28, and M. Amin Gadeng, 50.

Local resident Razali said the attack occurred while the men were watching TV.

Sporadic violence and intimidation, ranging from bombings, abductions, confiscation of political party flags, and vandalism of party banners, to the killing of party executives have escalated ahead of the approaching elections in Aceh.

Sociologist George Junus Aditjondro said the recent violence could imply intelligent operations involving members of the military who were uncomfortable with political developments in the province.

Following the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami, an agreement between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in 2005 ended a three-decade war separatist struggle.

Several former GAM members won local elections, running as independent candidates.

"There's a fear within the military and ultranationalists in Jakarta that Aceh will seek independence again if a local party, most likely the Aceh Party, wins the next elections," Aditjondro said at a seminar here Wednesday.

Aceh is the only province allowed to have local parties, as part of the agreement signed in Helsinki, triggering similar requests elsewhere.

Aceh now has six local parties, including the Aceh Party, contesting the April 9 elections. The Aceh Party was set up by former GAM leaders.

Also on Wednesday, two businessmen were kidnapped in a village by three gunmen in East Aceh district, Agence France-Presse reported local police chief Ridwan Usman as saying.

International Crisis Group security analyst Sidney Jones 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, particularly President Yudhoyono's, seemed to have a direct impact on the behavior of both sides," she said Wednesday, referring to the former rebels and the Indonesian Military presence in Aceh.

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