Aceh: Radical Sharia police raid UN diplomatic compound

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
The United Nations has lodged a complaint after Muslim morality police in Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged Aceh province broke into a UN diplomatic compound and peered through windows at sleeping foreign diplomats.
The late-night raid, which violated international conventions on diplomatic privilege and immunity, was the latest incident involving Aceh's controversial "Sharia police," who have illegally detained women for not wearing headscarves and publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol.
The incident occurred at 11 p.m. last Thursday night when 30 men, both Sharia officers and regular city policemen, forced their way into the compound of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, despite protests from UN guards.

"It's a violation of diplomatic rules - a clear violation," Barry Cane, a WFP spokesman, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Cane said the Sharia police, who are civil servants charged with enforcing a controversial Islamic law statute in Aceh, wandered around the compound, which contains both offices and residences for foreign UN workers.

He acknowledged that the policemen peered into the bedroom windows of UN diplomats while they were sleeping.

"I don't even want to speculate" on their motives, Cane said, although another foreign aid worker familiar with the raid told dpa they were hoping to catch the Westerners drinking at their private bar.

"The matter was taken up with the provincial government, which apologized," Cane said, adding that a UN security official was in Aceh investigating the incident, and that the WFP filed a protest with the Aceh police department.

However, Cane said the WFP remained concerned that the Sharia police, who are apparently operating out of control of any authority in Aceh, would attempt to raid the compound again, even though they know it's a diplomatic mission protected by international convention.

The Indonesian parliament allowed Aceh to implement Sharia, or Islamic law, in 2003, despite the rest of the Muslim-majority nation being secular.

Since then, the Sharia police have become a law unto themselves, dragging women off of motorcycles and out of hotel lobbies for not wearing headscarves, making lewd sexual references, and illegally detaining them.

The group's antics have infuriated both Acehnese citizens and foreign relief agencies, which are spending billions of dollars helping Aceh recover from the 2004 Asian tsunami as well as a recently-finished 29-year separatist war.

It remains unknown why the UN or Indonesia's Foreign Ministry did not publicly acknowledge the incident, which occurred on the country's August 17 Independence Day.

"No one wants to make a big deal about it publicly at the moment," one UN official, speaking on background, told dpa. "It's a very sensitive issue, but there was no attempt to cover it up."

Sharia police officials in Aceh could not be reached for comment.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
August 23, 2006