Combatants in Aceh's separatist war like to use visits by Jakarta dignitaries to make brutal political points - and President Megawati Sukarnoputri's trip to the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, today is no exception. Thirty-six hours before she was due to fly to Aceh, Dayan Dawood, the rector of Banda Aceh's Syiah Kuala University, was assassinated as he drove home from work. Only days before, he had offered to help broker peace talks between Ms Megawati's new Government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist guerillas. An Hawaii university graduate, he was also the head of Aceh's branch of Muhammadiyah, the country's second-largest Muslim organisation, and chairman of the Golkar Party in Aceh. '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,' Asia director of Human Rights Watch Sidney Jones said. '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.' GAM members had demanded money and vehicles from Dawood in the past and he knew he was at risk whatever he did. 'He was clearly afraid of both sides,' Ms Jones said. His murder is the ninth of prominent Acehnese figures since January last year and, alongside the slaughter of more than 1,100 civilians this year alone, highlights the impediments facing Ms Megawati and her hopes of solving the Aceh problem. Her desire to find a solution is not in doubt. She has signed a law on special autonomy for Aceh, met non-separatist leaders, authorised the armed forces to send more troops and the navy to intensify patrols to stop gun-running from neighbouring countries. She also has formally apologised in an independence day address for abuses committed in Aceh and stressed that dialogue is the only sure way ahead. She ordered her ministers to secure the release of six GAM peace negotiators who, despite carrying safe-conduct passes from the Jakarta Government, had been arrested by police in Aceh. But solving the Aceh problem is not so easy. While Ms Megawati was offering sweet words in Jakarta, her military was forcing Acehnese residents to fly the Indonesian flag. Near-daily reports come in of killings, torture, house-burnings and more. A member of a US-funded human rights group was found shot dead yesterday, and eight alleged rebels were reported killed. Recent visitors to Aceh insist there is little concept in Jakarta of just how disenchanted the Acehnese are with the Government's pledges. Promises have been offered since 1945, in particular by Ms Megawati's father, but no key pledges have been implemented. In addition, most Acehnese can now claim at least one family member or friend as a victim of military and police abuse so that to them, the debate is not merely over what percentage of oil and gas revenues they deserve but over securing justice for crimes committed by the state. Again, Ms Megawati has offered the right words, but few observers seriously expect her to put the key generals on trial. Dawood's murder will likely join a long line of unsolved crimes. 'It is in neither side's interests to have an early end to the fighting in Aceh. Both are busy making themselves more integral to any search for a solution,' a Jakarta-based analyst said. Ms Jones said: 'There is no question that both sides [GAM and the Indonesian armed forces] have been responsible for unlawful killings, as well as a wide range of other abuses. But the Government has a particular responsibility to ensure those who are supposed to uphold the law do not themselves become violators of it. In this, it has failed utterly.'