Indonesia said on Monday it was still willing to talk to Aceh fighters to try save a fragile peace agreement but demanded they stop pushing for independence and start disarming.

  

The government gave the Free Aceh Movement or  Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) between one and two weeks to respond and held back from launching a full-scale military operation.

 

"GAM is still given the chance," said military chief General Endriartono Sutarto. "Law enforcement operations, the security operations will only be launched if GAM ignores the opportunity given by the government," Sutarto said. 

 

Yudhoyono: GAM has to return to the
Cessation of Hostilities Agreement

Top security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said any decision to launch a military strike would not necessarily be taken after one or two weeks. "We'll see in the near future," he said without elaborating.

  

A Joint Council meeting scheduled for last weekend in Geneva, seen as the last hope of salvaging the 9 December peace agreement, was cancelled. Jakarta withdrew in protest after GAM demanded the start be postponed for two days.

  

"The Joint Council meeting can still be held if there are concrete guarantees, in the form of an explicit and formal statement from GAM to return to the basic concept of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA), that is the acceptance of special autonomy as the basis of a peace settlement, and to fulfil its obligation to lay down arms," said Yudhoyono.

  

The Council brings the Indonesian government and fighters around the table with mediators from the Swiss-based Henry Dunant Centre. If either side wants to withdraw from the pact a Joint Council must first be called to try and bridge differences.

  

Jakarta accuses GAM of violating the peace pact by continuing to campaign for independence. Under the deal it agreed to accept the government's autonomy package - already in effect - as a starting point for talks.

  

Each side also accuses the other of launching a series of attacks. More than 50 people have been killed in the province on Sumatra this month.

  

Yudhoyono said the peace pact is still possible "but we will not make any new initiatives or concessions whatsoever." The next move is up to GAM, he said.

  

"We've had enough. We'd rather focus on improving other matters (in Aceh) than exhaust ourselves days and weeks to negotiate on the venue, date and agenda of the Joint Council meeting," Yudhoyono said.

  

The government agreed to fighters’ demands to hold the meeting outside the country and also agreed to switch the venue from Tokyo to Geneva.   "The president has taken the decision to take one or two weeks to prepare everything," Yudhoyono said after a meeting of top ministers chaired by President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

 

Young Acehnese demanding a ceasefire at
a rally in front of the United Nations in
Jakarta in October

Demilitarisation was supposed to begin on 9 February but neither side has so far taken any steps.  Yudhoyono said any law enforcement operation would be directed against crimes targeting civilians, "such as abductions, extortions, forced recruitment and the killing of suspected spies."

  

He described the GAM fighters desire to see an independent Aceh  as "a crime against the security of the state and this should be heavily punished."

 

GAM has been fighting for an independent Aceh since 1976. Aceh is to the north-west of Sumatra with a population of 4.1 million.

 

In 1999 Jakarta proposed a referendum in Aceh to decide its status. But the Indonesian government has not acceded to this proposal.

 

Aljazeera