Jakarta, rebels vow to work for peace

Indonesia and Aceh separatists have agreed to work towards a lasting peace deal to help rebuild the province that took the brunt of the 26 December tsunami.

    The Aceh province was devastated by the tsunami

    The two sides said on Saturday after talks in Helsinki that they would meet again soon.

    After three decades of fighting that has claimed 12,000
    lives, Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) put aside differences to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Aceh, where more than 100,000 people died or disappeared in the tsunami.

    The scale of the tragedy prompted ceasefire offers, and
    Indonesia sent its most senior delegation so far to meet the GAM's exiled leaders, who have been based in Stockholm since 1976.

    Limited autonomy

    Jakarta is offering limited autonomy for the gas-rich province of four million people on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. The GAM has rejected that in the past, but the Finnish mediators said it formed the basis of these talks.

    "We have an in-principle agreement to meet again in the near
    future to discuss a comprehensive peace settlement under the
    umbrella of self-autonomy," Indonesia's information minister, Sofyan Djalil, said in Helsinki.

    The Finnish mediator, former President Martti Ahtisaari, who
    has previously brokered peace in conflict zones such as Kosovo, told a news conference that the next round of Helsinki talks would happen soon: "I don't expect it to take months."

    He said that after such a long conflict it was not realistic
    for such foes to "start loving each other" so soon.

    The military says it has killed
    200 fighters since the tsunami

    GAM Prime Minister Malik Mahmud, while speaking of differences that need to be ironed out, went as far as to say that the two delegations had formed a close  relationship.

    "We concentrated more on humanitarian issues and ceasefire to allow the humanitarian operation in Aceh to go smoothly," the GAM leader said.

    It is unknown how much influence the GAM leaders have
    with the fighters in the jungles of Aceh, after their long exile
    in Sweden with the ailing octogenarian sultan Hasan di Tiro,
    whom they consider their rightful head of state.

    Some in the Muslim province have expressed scepticism about implementing a peace accord, and Indonesia's military says it has killed more than 200 GAM fighters since the tsunami, despite all the ceasefire rhetoric.

    But Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who made a 2004 election promise to win peace, said there was "great momentum" for peace, telling CNBC television: "I will give some concessions to them. I will give them a kind of amnesty and I will bring them in as part of society building in Aceh."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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