New riots broke out in Indonesia Wednesday, and the country's military chief angrily reversed a decision to withdraw troops from a northern province.
The decision could fuel tension in Aceh province, where soldiers have been accused of atrocities while suppressing Islamic separatist rebels in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Investigators have found mass graves with alleged victims of the military.Last month, armed forces chief Gen. Wiranto apologized and pulled out 1,000 soldiers in a conciliatory gesture.
But after a Cabinet meeting in Jakarta Wednesday, Wiranto condemned recent anti-military riots in the town of Lhokseumawe, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, as "an act of anarchy" and said Acehnese religious and social leaders would no longer be in charge of keeping order.
"From now on, the armed forces is taking over the security in Aceh," he said. He brushed off questions about how long the military would stay, saying: "You ask the Acehnese people."
Abdurrahman Yacoub, a human-rights lawyer in Aceh, said the province already had 6,000 troops and more were not needed.
On Tuesday, Wiranto sent hundreds of troops into Aceh after the riots in Lhokseumawe.
Lhokseumawe was quiet Wednesday, with thousands of anti-riot officers patrolling the streets. Hundreds of soldiers also guarded a natural gas refinery and other state-run industrial sites in the town, which is close to operations run by Mobil Corp., the U.S. oil company.
Still, rioting spread Wednesday to the nearby town of Idi, where mobs damaged a Chinese temple and looted stores and burned goods.
Teenagers in school uniforms started the riot, and bystanders then joined in, police Lt. Col. Suminar said by telephone. There were no reports of casualties.