Indonesia: Aceh rebels want peace talks

The separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has called for peace talks with the Indonesian government to ensure the safety of aid workers in tsunami-ravaged Aceh province.

GAM's prime minister Malik Mahmud, living in exile in Sweden, says his side is keen to hold ceasefire talks to assuage fears of security problems that have prompted the government to restrict the movement of foreign unarmed troops and relief workers in Aceh.

"We are prepared to meet with RI [the Republic of Indonesia] to agree the optimum modalities to ensure the success of the ceasefire and thereby minimize the suffering of the Acehnese people," he said in a statement issued Wednesday (12/1/05).

Foreign aid groups initially had free access to Aceh following the December 26 earthquake and tsunamis that killed more than 110,000 people in northern Sumatra, but the government this week imposed restrictions requiring all foreigners to register and obtain military permission to travel outside two cities.

Security authorities claim the restrictions are necessary because foreign aid groups might leave Aceh if their workers are caught in crossfire between GAM and the military.

GAM, which has been fighting for independence since 1976, declared a unilateral ceasefire after the tsunamis.

The government has said it cannot lift restrictions in Aceh until the rebels surrender their weapons. "We are trying to safeguard the safety of all of you. We don't want any of you to be hurt by irresponsible GAM members," Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla welcomed GAM's call for peace talks. "Of course we welcome it. Indonesia will also make efforts toward it," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

He did not explain what steps would be taken, but other officials have said the government is using Islamic preachers as intermediaries to negotiate with GAM.

The military on Thursday said it had arrested five GAM members in Riau province's Kampar regency and seized two firearms and hundreds of bullets.

Following are two brief statements on the security situation in Aceh, issued by GAM's Sweden-based leadership.

GAM reconfirms its commitment to an unconditional ceasefire throughout Acheh

12 January 2005

In light of the unfolding drama in Acheh and in an effort to ensure the safe and effective delivery of essential humanitarian assistance throughout Acheh, the Government of Acheh in exile, the PNA/ASNLF, would like to reconfirm its commitment of the 26 December 2004, to an unconditional ceasefire throughout Acheh for an indefinite period.

PNA/ASNLF will continue to refrain from initiating all offensive military actions and calls on the RI to publicly make the same commitments, thereby ensuring the people of Acheh receive unfettered humanitarian assistance.

We know from experience that making such security arrangements work is difficult. Therefore, we are prepared to meet with the RI to agree the optimum modalities to ensure the success of the ceasefire and thereby minimize the suffering of the Achehnese people.

Malik Mahmud
Prime Minister in exile
State of Acheh

TNA guarantees safety & free access to Acheh for international aid work

January 11, 2005

The Acheh National Armed Forces (TNA) guarantees the safety and free access to all part of Acheh for the international aid workers. We understand that Indonesian Colonial government has issued a warning to international aid workers that it cannot guarantee their safety. It is only a move by the Indonesian colonial who is at tremendous anxiety with the presence of international aid workers and military to scare them away. Attempts have been made for this purpose such as random fire of weapon in the city, dispatching false news about our forces has engaged in harassments of aid delivery. This falsification of news and other hassles by the colonial authority to aid workers and aid distribution have only one goal: to scare away international workers from Acheh. They do not like international involvement in Acheh.

TNA Commander in-Chief
Muzakkir Manaf