Indonesia

Five killed in Indonesia's Aceh province amid peace talks

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Jakarta (dpa) - Government troops shot and killed five alleged separatist rebels in Indonesia's province of Aceh as negotiators reached a tentative agreement on a peace deal aimed at ending nearly 30 years of armed conflict, local media reported Tuesday.

The five rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) were killed on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, during three separate clashes in the South Aceh district, the Aceh-based Serambi Indonesia daily reported.

One rebel was reportedly killed on Saturday while four others were shot and killed on Sunday as government negotiators and rebel leaders announced they had reached a tentative peace agreement in Helsinki, Finland, where the two sides have been meeting in the aftermath of the December 26 tsunami.

The report quoted military officials as saying that government troops also seized a rifle, ammunition and other documents belonging to the rebels following the gunfights.

Indonesia and GAM are scheduled to sign a peace agreement on August 15 in Finland, ending nearly three decades of conflict in the tsunami-ravaged province, but it was uncertain when military forces in the area would actually be reigned in.

A peace deal collapsed in May 2003 after Jakarta arrested rebel negotiators and militias attacked peace monitors in Aceh, forcing them to abandon the province, and prompting the government to launch a major military offensive aimed at crushing the rebels.

Indonesia and the Aceh rebels agreed to negotiate in the wake of the December 26 tsunami disaster, in which some 170,000 people were listed as either dead or missing in Indonesia, mostly in Aceh, to smooth the way for reconstruction of the devastated province.

In the days after the tsunami, both sides unofficially agreed to freeze operations to focus on helping victims, but the informal truce has been ignored by the military, which claims to have killed several hundred alleged rebels since the disaster struck.

GAM has been fighting for an independent state in Aceh, a resource-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra, since 1976. More than 12,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed as a result of the ongoing armed conflict between government forces and rebels. dpa sh eu jh

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