Indonesia

Tsunami failing to bring peace to Indonesia's Aceh

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By Dan Eaton

JAKARTA, June 9 (Reuters) - Rebels in tsunami-hit Aceh said on Thursday the devastating waves almost six months ago had proved only a "momentary distraction" for Indonesia's government, rather than hastening a peaceful solution to decades of fighting.

Jakarta this week rejected a key demand in peace talks spurred by the tsunami for the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to be able to run as a local party in elections, while the army said it would continue to fight the separatists until a deal was reached.

Rebel military commander Muzakkir Manaf said Jakarta, by rejecting the demand, showed it supported the status quo, not a peaceful end to one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies. "It becomes terribly clear that Jakarta has no intention of taking the slightest step forward," Manaf said in a statement.

"By rejecting reasonable political measures to help solve the conflict, the Indonesian government has shown, despite the tsunami and (President Susilo Bambang) Yudhoyono's political posturing, that it has changed not one bit."

Exiled rebel negotiators and the Indonesian government began fresh peace talks in Helsinki this year following the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that swept the province on the northern tip of Sumatra island, leaving 160,000 people feared dead and half a million homeless.

A peace deal is seen as important in smoothing the way for Aceh's reconstruction after the tsunami as billions of dollars in aid pour into the province.

Chief Security Minister Widodo A.S said after a cabinet meeting to discuss the rebel proposals on Tuesday that Jakarta could not agree to GAM's demand to run as a local party since it would require changes to the law.

GAM has proposed amending the laws that require parties to be nationally based, with representation in more than half of Indonesia's provinces and their headquarters in Jakarta.

ANXIETY AND MISTRUST

The government and GAM plan to meet for a week from July 12 in the Finnish capital Helsinki for a fifth round of talks that aim to end a conflict in which some 12,000 people, most of them civilians, have died since 1976.

The rejection of the rebel demand could spell trouble for the delicate talks and reflects Jakarta's anxiety about keeping a diverse country unified and allowing local parties based on ethnicity or language.

Years of mistrust between rebels and the Indonesian military will also make any deal difficult. Bloody clashes have been reported almost daily since the peace talks began.

Military commander General Endriartono Sutarto told reporters on Wednesday the rebels must lay down their arms before any ceasefire could be agreed.

"Why don't they surrender their arms? According to our experiences, ceasefires have been used before by them to consolidate their power," he said.

At least 3,200 rebels had been killed since the army launched an offensive in May 2003, he added.

(Additional reporting by Achmad Sukarsono)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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