Indonesia: Aceh peace talks trip on rebel political ambitions

By Mantik Kusjanto and Achmad Sukarsono

HELSINKI/JAKARTA, July 15 (Reuters) - Rebels fighting Indonesian troops in Aceh rejected on Friday a government offer at peace talks in Finland to let their leaders run for office if a truce is reached, but not as a fully-fledged political party.

The exiled leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), who have raised hopes of an end to the 30-year-old conflict by dropping their demands for full independence, hope to run for election in Aceh as a legal political party -- something Jakarta rules out.

The fifth round of talks this year under Finnish mediation began on Tuesday with hopes a truce could be signed in August, ending bloodshed that has cost more than 12,000 lives in a province that was also ravaged by December's tsunami.

But GAM's political future has proved a sticking point, with Jakarta saying this would require changes to electoral law and could lead to demands from other ethnic or religious groups.

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

"It is clear we cannot allow GAM to establish a local political party in the current situation," Indonesian Justice Minister Hamid Awaluddin told reporters on Thursday.

The Indonesians offered instead to let GAM run for office under the umbrella of other parties -- which GAM rejected as "undemocratic" in a statement released on Friday.

"If GAM was to agree to this arrangement, it would mean GAM would agree to be given privileges that would not exist for other sectors of Aceh political society," said GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah. "GAM has therefore rejected this proposal."


The rebels said one of their men was killed by Indonesian troops in a northern village on Friday while seeking medical assistance. The military said it knew nothing of the incident.

"In Helsinki we are going through a dialogue but on the ground they are still creating violence," the GAM military wing's spokesman Sofyan Dawood told Reuters.

In Helsinki, Abdullah from the exiled GAM leadership based in Stockholm said the shooting made them "more determined to find a solution and try to get a deal from this whole exercise".

Last week, Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is orchestrating the talks, persuaded 10 parties to agree to nominate former GAM members in local elections in Aceh that could start this year, but nationalist legislators said he was being too soft on GAM.

On Friday, Kalla was quoted by national news agency Antara saying Jakarta's negotiators had "a number of options" that might keep the Helsinki talks on track for a deal.

Damien Kingsbury, an Australian academic advising GAM, said the rebels had a counter-proposal insisting "anybody be allowed to stand for election ... a democratic right for people to be nominated for election for various administrative positions".

The talks mediated by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari are scheduled to end on Saturday or Sunday and most points on a draft deal for an August truce have now been agreed.

Both sides were prompted to return to the negotiating table by the tsunami which devastated the province on the northern tip of Sumatra, killing nearly 170,000 people in Indonesia.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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