July 17, 2005

Indonesia and Aceh rebels to sign truce in August

By Mantik Kusjanto and Ott Ummelas

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Indonesia and Aceh rebels will sign a
truce on Aug. 15 after agreeing on Sunday a formula for ending
the 30-year-old conflict that has cost 12,000 lives in the
province devastated by last December's tsunami.

Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) initialled a deal
on how to disarm the guerrillas, withdraw Indonesian troops,
monitor a ceasefire and reintegrate the rebels socially and
politically. It will be formally signed in Helsinki next month.

"It is a historic moment, we finally reach a peaceful
settlement that has been longed for so many years by the people
of Aceh and by the people of Indonesia," Indonesian Information
Minister Sofyan Djalil told Reuters at the talks in Finland.

"Society can live peacefully and we can rebuild Aceh after
it has been destroyed by the tsunami," he said.

In the devoutly Muslim province of 4 million people on the
northern tip of the island of Sumatra, which has long history
of revolt against Jakarta and Dutch colonial rule, there was
little patience with the political details of the talks.

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

"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.

GAM said they had taken a chance on the deal with Jakarta
"because we want to give the people of Aceh a chance to rebuild
after the devastating tsunami and to provide them with the
opportunity to determine their own internal affairs."

"But this leap of faith is not without risks, and we now
require the Indonesian government to exercise full authority
over the Indonesian military in order to allow this process to
succeed," said GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah in Helsinki.


The agreement sets a tight schedule for decommissioning GAM
fighters and withdrawing Indonesian troops, who clashed as
recently as Friday when GAM said a rebel was killed.

The violence has hampered the exploitation of Aceh's rich
natural gas deposits and humanitarian aid for tsunami victims.

The wave that left 170,000 Indonesians dead or missing
prompted both sides to return to talks. Success looked possible
after GAM agreed in February to drop demands for independence.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters in
Jakarta his government would offer the guerrillas an amnesty
and scale down its military and police presence once the deal
is inked.

The European Union and ASEAN will help monitor the truce
and GAM said it "calls on the international community to ensure
that the government of Indonesia abides by this agreement."

Both sides have been accused of human rights violations and
as recently as 2003, after earlier talks collapsed, Indonesia
imposed martial law with tens of thousands of troops.

Now the way should be free for the return of GAM's
political leaders from three decades of exile in Stockholm with
the aging Prince Hasan di Tiro whom they consider their head of

GAM secured a last-minute compromise on their ambitions to
become a political party seeking local office. Jakarta objected
that this might require changing the constitution and could
encourage demands from other religious and ethnic groups.

But Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla indicated at a
news conference in Jakarta that GAM would be allowed to move
quickly toward setting up an Aceh-based national party in line
with current laws, while a purely local party might come later.

"We are going to facilitate former members of GAM to set up
a political party that fits national criteria and is based in
Aceh," he said, adding that parliament must be consulted before
allowing GAM to launch its own locally based party.

(Additional reporting by Achmad Sukarsono in Banda Aceh and
Telly Nathalia in Jakarta)