Aceh Governor Insists Province Safe for Investment

Zaini-AbdullahAceh remains an ideal place for businesses to invest in, despite regular flare-ups of election-related violence, the province’s governor told a business forum on Tuesday.

Zaini Abdullah said any talk of a prevailing culture of violence and insecurity in the resource-rich province, which only emerged from a three-decade armed insurgency in 2005, was “baseless.”

“Until now you can say the situation in Aceh is very safe, even safer than many other cities in Indonesia,” the governor said in a speech at the “Go West! Invest in Aceh” business forum in Jakarta.

Since the implementation of special autonomy in the province in 2005, Aceh has been gripped by regular bouts of violence, particularly surrounding elections contested by Zaini’s own Aceh Party, made up of former officials and combatants — like the governor — of the now-defunct separatist group the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM.

Five people were killed in politically motivated attacks in March and April, including an 18-month-old infant, mostly in the district of North Aceh and town of Lhokseumawe. A rival local party, unaffiliated with the GAM, has also accused the Aceh Party of intimidating voters during the April 9 legislative election and of ballot stuffing.

Another issue that has long spooked investors is the partial implementation of shariah, or Islamic law, in Aceh — the only province in the country allowed to do so.

Zaini denied that shariah, under which residents have been caned for offenses ranging from gambling on dominoes to selling food during Ramadan, had cast a pall over the province’s investment climate.

“Islamic shariah applies only to Muslims. For non-Muslims, there is no obligation at all to comply,” he said.

He added that residents of Aceh had the “utmost respect” for non-Muslims and would go to great length to protect their right to worship as they saw fit — a claim that flies in the face of the closure of at least nine churches by provincial authorities in 2011 alone.