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2006-09-28,9:13 PM

Elections won't threaten Aceh peace - analysts

By Ahmad Pathoni

Peace in Indonesia's once-restive Aceh province should hold even if former separatist rebels running in December's local elections fail to win any posts, analysts said on Thursday.

Acehnese are due to vote in the region's first direct elections for governor and other local offices on December 11, more than a year after Jakarta signed a peace deal with the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to end decades of bloodshed.

The accord paves the way for limited self-rule in Aceh, which was devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia director for the International Crisis Group, said GAM was not focusing on the December polls because it had set its sights on parliamentary elections in 2009 which it would contest as a political party.

GAM seeks to win control of the provincial parliament in 2009 and use that power as a vehicle to push a political agenda, she said.

"I think there will be irritation, disappointment, frustration, resentment and all the above if they come out with nothing, but because of the higher goal of 2009 it may not have a particularly destabilising effect more generally," she told a news conference.

The latest public opinion survey shows former Aceh acting governor Azwar Abu Bakar, backed by two national Islamic parties, is the favourite gubernatorial candidate.

Paul Rowland, head of the Indonesia operation of U.S.-based think-tank National Democratic Institute, said Aceh voters would support a candidate who offers programmes addressing practical issues such as jobs and post-tsunami reconstruction.

"I don't think we'll find a particularly radicalised electorate," he said.

The military may try to prevent GAM candidates from winning by throwing its support to other candidates but is unlikely to resort to intimidation or violence, Jones said.

Former Aceh military chief Djali Yusuf is among those running for governor but has a slim chance of winning given the army's poor human rights record in the province, Jones said.

Indonesia's parliament passed a landmark law in July giving Aceh wide-ranging autonomy.

The Aceh peace accord, signed in Helsinki last August, marked the end of a separatist insurgency in which more than 15,000 people, mostly civilians, had died since 1979.

The pact was the result of months of talks spurred by the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that left around 170,000 Acehnese dead or missing.

The Helsinki agreement followed GAM's decision to drop its demand for an independent Aceh state. Jakarta in turn promised to allow local political parties, including any group set up by GAM, to operate in Aceh, although that contradicted Indonesian laws.

Existing national laws require parties to have branches in more than half the country's 33 provinces, and individuals to obtain party endorsements before they run in elections.

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