As a second day of negotiations got under way on Wednesday, delegates said they were pleased that they had already managed to cover all the points in a draft peace treaty – saying they were now prepared to discuss all the suggested changes.
“It’s amazingly surprising that we managed to discuss all the issues already yesterday [Tuesday],” Free Aceh Movement (GAM) spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah told journalists. “Now we can discuss the new draft today.”
Maria-Elena Cowell, a spokeswoman for the Crisis Management Initiative foundation organising the talks, confirmed that “a few points have been reformulated” in the draft treaty, but would not say which ones.
The western Indonesian province of Aceh has been a battleground for government and armed rebels since GAM launched its campaign for independence in 1976.
Impetus for change
The renewed efforts to make peace were prompted by a need for international aid to reach Aceh, which bore the brunt of last December’s tsunami. More than 131,000 people in the province perished.
While the four previous rounds of talks held in the Finnish capital have led to few concrete advances towards ending the conflict, recent statements from both the Indonesian government and the Aceh separatists have given rise to optimism that a genuine settlement can be reached.
Most significantly perhaps, GAM has said it is willing to give in to Jakarta’s demand that Aceh remain a part of Indonesia, a main sticking point in the talks.
“I think that we have really done what we can. Now it is up to Indonesia to give in. The ball is in their court”
“This is one of the biggest compromises that GAM has ever made,” Abdullah said.
Although Jakarta, too, appears to be softening on several issues, including on whether Indonesian military forces will withdraw from the province, GAM insists that the government needs to do more to ensure an agreement.
“I think that we have really done what we can. Now it is up to Indonesia to give in. The ball is in their court,” Abdullah said, referring to continued government reluctance to grant the separatists the right to political participation.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said last weekend the government would not allow local parties to stand in elections in Aceh
However, the president added that while former GAM members would be allowed to run for the vice-governorship post and those of district chiefs and mayors, the position of governor would be off limits.
“There cannot be restrictions placed on political parties. That would stop this process from going ahead,” GAM political advisor Damien Kingsbury told journalists, calling on Jakarta to “embrace basic democratic principals”.
Organisers however remained optimistic. “There is a very constructive spirit here,” Cowell said.
As an indication that this round of talks could be decisive, Peter Feith, the European Union deputy director general for security and defense policy, stopped by Helsinki on the first day of the talks to size up the progress being made.
The EU is considering sending a monitoring team to Aceh if a deal is agreed upon.
The discussions, which are scheduled to last through Sunday, are being held at the Koeningstedt estate outside Helsinki and are being mediated by former Finnish president and career diplomat Martti Ahtisaari.