Aceh rector shot dead as guerrilla tension flares

September 14, 2001

Compared with the carnage in New York, it was a small act of terrorism. Dayan Dawood, rector of Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, was heading back from the campus through the centre of town in broad daylight in his official car, when two unidentified gunmen shot him dead.

At a celebration to mark his university's 40th anniversary just four days earlier, Professor Dawood praised efforts at dialogue to resolve the armed conflict between Indonesian forces and pro-independence guerrillas of the Free Aceh Movement (Gam). He said it might be time to turn to the university campus to come up with a new concept for peace.

His public assertion of the university's need to assume a more prominent role in the peace process was seen as the reason for his assassination.

The killers' identity remains unclear. Both the military and Gam forces have been responsible for political assassinations and both have accused each other in Professor Dawood's murder.

Gam has denied responsibility, saying that it targets only Indonesian security forces, but guerrillas are known to have targeted individuals they believe to be linked to the government. The possibility that the military may be implicated has also been raised.

Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: "The killing represents not only the loss of a respected intellectual leader - it means another major blow to civil society and fundamental freedoms in Aceh. People were already fearful of speaking out on any subject that could be misconstrued by either side. This murder is going to make them terrified."

C. W. Watson, reader in social anthropology at the University of Kent and an expert on the region, said: "It is hard to see how the conflict will come to an end."

When HRW workers met Professor Dawood in December 2000, he was afraid of both sides, threatened by Gam if he failed to meet its demands for money and vehicles and by the army if he did.

HRW has called for a neutral commission of inquiry to investigate the killing.

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