Aceh rebels cautious about draft peace

Rebels fighting Indonesian rule in Aceh province have welcomed news that the movement's government in exile had agreed to a peace accord, but said they had no plans to disarm until a final deal was signed in August.

    A peace deal will revoke the current martial law in place

    "It is good that the draft has been agreed to but the important thing is the finalisation of the peace deal," rebel spokesman Sofyan Dawood said by mobile phone from an undisclosed location in the province on Sunday.

    "We need to see how things develop in the field, which means we will wait to see an agreement signed" before disarming, he said.

    The peace talks reached a tentative agreement in the early hours of Sunday, to allow the rebels to become a political party, which would pave the way for an end to the bloody 30-year-old conflict.

    The Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has dropped its historic demand for independence, had held out for assurances at talks in Helsinki that it could contest future elections once there is an end to the fighting that has killed more than 12,000 people.


    "I don't know anything about negotiations. What I want is just peace in which I can work and my children can grow"

    Tsunami survivor

    Indonesian Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said there had been a "tentative agreement" and other government negotiators were confident that a blueprint for a formal truce could be signed on Sunday, once they got the go-ahead from Jakarta. 

    "If this proposal is accepted in Jakarta it will pave the way for finalising an agreement on achieving a sustainable peace in Aceh," said GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah in a statement.

    Just seeking peace

    In Aceh itself, residents who have struggled through loss of loved ones and livelihoods due to the 26 December tsunami that flattened their homes, said the two sides should stop fiddling on details and show that peace is more than a promise. 

    "I don't know anything about negotiations. What I want is just peace in which I can work and my children can grow," said tsunami survivor Jamaluddin who builds wells in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh. 

    Acehnese were devastated by a
    deadly tsunami in December

    "I have lost four of my eight children. I have to work from morning to late at night. I don't have time to support any side," he said. 

    Boatmaker Teuku Hairi, who knows about the Helsinki talks but not the details, said he also only wanted lasting peace.

    "Little people like us do not want to take sides. We are 100% for peace and we think anything should be offered if the outcome is peace," said the 25-year-old who migrated from Aceh's tsunami-destroyed west coast to its capital for a better life. 

    When he was told GAM was willing to drop its fight for an independent state as long as it could form a local party, Hairi
    said: "That's great. Jakarta must grant it. 

    "It's only letting a party to run anyway. In the end, the Acehnese will decide whether that party can get support."

    Final hurdle

    Government negotiators and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the talks were close to a deal although they admitted the remaining issue was still about GAM's future role in politics. 

    GAM officials have been more upbeat as they consider the
    Jakarta negotiators have indicated that their demand for a fully-fledged party could be accommodated. 

    "Little people like us do not want to take sides. We are 100% for peace ... It's only letting a party to run anyway" 

    Teuku Hairi,

    Officials in Jakarta have insisted all week an Aceh-based party could not get the nod and the chief Indonesian negotiator Justice Minister Hamid Awaluddin was quoted by Indonesian media saying reports that he relented to GAM's proposal was "untrue".

    Earlier peace talks collapsed in 2003 and Indonesia imposed martial law in the province on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, whose Muslim inhabitants have a long history of armed struggle against Jakarta and Dutch colonial rule.

    Both sides were prompted to return to the negotiating table by the tsunami, which devastated Aceh and left 170,000 Indonesians dead or missing.

    European Union ceasefire monitors and the Indonesian military were already discussing how to implement a deal on the ground in Aceh when the Helsinki talks tripped on GAM's political demands.

    The rebels, whose leaders have lived in exile in Stockholm for nearly 30 years with their aging monarch, Prince Hasan di Tiro, wanted assurances that they could contest elections in the province of four million people as a proper political party.

    Ongoing violence

    Despite the peace talks, violence
    still flared up in Aceh

    Under Indonesian law, parties must have a headquarters in Jakarta and branches in more than half of the 33 provinces.

    The government was reluctant to change the law to accommodate GAM, fearing similar demands from other ethnic or religious groups.

    It offered instead to let GAM stand under the umbrella of 10 existing political parties, though nationalist legislators objected that this was too big a concession to GAM.

    Despite the peace talks, violence still flared up in Aceh, with GAM saying one of its men was killed by soldiers in a northern village on Friday while seeking medical assistance.

    Aceh has rich gas deposits and foreign companies operating there.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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