Indonesian marines:
ready for the worst

In a bid to defuse tension, the government on Sunday released four Aceh rebel representatives held by the Indonesian police as suspects in bomb attacks. But the condition was that the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists should meet government officials by Monday.

   

The four rebels were senior representatives of GAM on the Joint Security Committee (JSC) overseeing the peace pact in Aceh, Indonesia's westernmost province.

   

Police arrested the four on Saturday saying they were officially suspects in relation to bombings in Jakarta and Medan. The arrests, which took place on Friday, were condemned by other GAM leaders.

   

Aceh police spokesman Sayed Hoesainy said, "To take into consideration that they are still under the JSC, we temporarily returned them to the JSC and HDC while we wait for the government's decision" on whether to stick with the peace deal. The four remained suspects, he added.

 

Last-minute attempt

   

The Geneva-based Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), which brokered the December peace agreement now in danger of collapse, said on Sunday it was making eleventh-hour efforts to save the peace pact.

   

"We're still talking with both parties today and will wait and see. We hope the best can be achieved," said David Gorman, who heads the centre's operations in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital 1,700 km northwest of Jakarta.

   

HDC officials denied there had been a withdrawal from Aceh by its own staff or international monitors helping supervise implementation of the peace deal. There were reports on Saturday that some forces, including Thai and Filipino troops, would leave over the weekend.

 

Marines throw berets into
the air

In Malaysia, across the Strait of Malacca from Aceh on Sumatra's northern tip, armed forces were on the alert for a possible influx of refugees if fighting breaks out in the troubled province.

   

Decades of simmering conflict between the Jakarta-based government and GAM have left more than 10,000 dead in resource-rich Aceh, mostly civilians.

   

The peace deal called for GAM to start laying down its arms and the military to withdraw to defensive positions.

 

It sharply reduced violence for a while but has come under increasing strain of late with each side accusing the other of violations and Indonesia moving reinforcements to the province.