Aceh peace talks deadlocked

Peace talks between Indonesia and separatists from the tsunami-devastated Aceh province have become deadlocked over autonomy and security issues, mediators have said.

    Indonesian and GAM mediators are seeking a lasting peace

    Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) were meeting for the second time in three weeks on Monday, seeking a lasting peace for the gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

    "We are still working out the details. We've not come to any agreement yet, we are still discussing the sticking points," GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah told journalists.

    "We haven't reached any common ground."

    Abdullah said five issues were on the agenda: special autonomy, security arrangements, an amnesty for the rebels, and a monitoring system and timetable for any possible deal.

    Scheduled talks

    The talks, held in a manor house outside the Finnish capital and mediated by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, are scheduled to run until Wednesday.

    Aceh province was devastated by
    the 26 Decemeber tsunami

    Ahtisaari's Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) group said in a statement special autonomy talks covered provincial elections, among other things. A ceasefire was also discussed. It said the sides met separately as well in joint sessions with Ahtisaari.

    "The situation is very hard and challenging," said Pauliina Arola at CMI. "It is difficult to assess whether both sides are willing to give and take."

    An Indonesian spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
    The sides were brought together by the 26 December tsunami, which hit the province especially hard. Almost 240,000 people were killed or went missing and more than 400,000 others were made homeless.

    Decades-old conflict

    Indonesia has said it is willing to discuss special autonomy and "topics around that" for Aceh, where the 30-year-old conflict has cost more than 12,000 lives.

    The autonomy deal offered by Jakarta includes concessions towards self-rule and Islamic law in the devout Muslim province and a bigger slice of the economic benefits from Aceh's energy resources.

    There has been sporadic flaring
    of violence since the tsunami

    "Of course we are positive," Indonesian Information Minister Sofyan Djalil told Reuters before the start of negotiations on Monday. "At least we are talking, it's a start."

    GAM has rejected offers of autonomy in the past, insisting on full independence from Jakarta.

    But its leaders, who have lived in exile in Stockholm since declaring independence in 1976, took part in the January talks, which had limited autonomy as their basis. The rebel group's prime minister said on Sunday the group was open to all ideas.

    "If we could achieve a ceasefire, we will try to (then) find other options to settle the political problem in Aceh," Malik Mahmud told Reuters. "We will study (autonomy), and perhaps we will try to find other options."

    There have been warnings of the risk of attacks on foreign aid workers in Aceh and Indonesia wants all foreign military personnel delivering relief to leave by the end of March. On
    Sunday an Australian and New Zealand medical team handed over its relief work to Indonesians.

    Fighting in the region has flared sporadically since the tsunami and the Indonesian army suffered rare casualties on Sunday when one soldier was killed and seven others wounded in an ambush by about 30 GAM rebels.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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