Soldiers deployed to deter election violence in Aceh

Students at an election commission office in South Sulawesi sorting ballot papers for Indonesia's general election on April 9. Ballot papers and ink bottles are shipped out early as natural disasters and logistical delays are not uncommon in the sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands.

Bomb-disposal tanks and soldiers are backing up police to secure safety at rally sites in Aceh, one of three areas in Indonesia that the authorities have singled out as most prone to election-related violence.

The other two areas are Poso in Central Sulawesi and Papua in eastern Indonesia. At two rallies in the provincial city of Banda Aceh on Sunday and one on Monday, rifle-carrying soldiers were seen near the sites as policemen lined roads and mingled with the crowds. At least three tanks from the "Gegana" or the bomb disposal squad, were spotted.

"We have feedback that some residents are too scared to vote. By doing all these, we hope it will be a deterrence to anyone with violent plans, and to ensure that the elections are a success," police commissioner Gustav Leo told The Straits Times.

As elections get under way across Indonesia, restive regions such as Aceh are seeing an uptick in violence that has left two dead and two badly injured.

Other acts of intimidation, such as grenades and molotov cocktails thrown at political party's posts, prompted National Police chief General Sutarman to rank Aceh as having the highest risk of election-related violence.

Aceh ended a bloody three-decade separatist conflict in 2006 with a peace pact giving the province special autonomy. But many residents and analysts say former rebels continue to stoke violence to maintain a firm grip on the province.

About two-thirds of the nearly 14,000 policemen in Aceh are being deployed to secure election-related activities, including at polling and counting centres. Some 1,400 soldiers have been deployed to back up the local police.

So far, things have been relatively peaceful in Poso, an area which experienced a sectarian conflict and has seen a wave of terrorist shoot-outs with police.

Said Ms Nur Tahumil, a social worker based in Poso: "The situation here has been uneventful since a shooting last month. The scene here is different from Aceh, because here, it is about terrorism more than political rivalry."

In Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua, there was no election-related violence reported in recent weeks. Some 5,000 soldiers have been deployed to ensure that the campaign and voting remain peaceful.

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