Aceh rebels, govt to open talks on truce

Associated Press

Jakarta, January 23:

The Indonesian government and Acehnese separatists will meet this week to discuss a formal ceasefire in the tsunami-ravaged province, and possibly lay a framework for restarting the peace process that foundered 20 months ago, sources close to the negotiations said today.

An official long involved in bringing the two sides together said the talks will definitely be held in Europe this week, probably in Helsinki, Finland, on Thursday.

The source spoke on condition that his name not be used for fear of disrupting the delicate negotiations.

The official said the Indonesian side wanted the ceasefire talks to be followed by negotiations on a final-status resolution for Aceh, whereas the rebels — who have been fighting for an independent homeland since 1976 — were not keen to discuss substantive issues.

The Indonesian government announced last week that it planned to hold talks by the end of the month.

The government’s spokesman was not available for comment today.

Leaders of the Free Aceh Movement — who maintain a government-in-exile in Sweden — said they would be pressing for a formal ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to get through to the victims.

In the aftermath of the December 26 tsunami, both sides pledged to hold military operations. But the informal truce has been ignored by the military which announced today it had killed more than 200 alleged rebels.

“We do need to have a total ceasefire on both sides,” said rebel leader Abdullah Zaini. “This is needed for the distribution of aid. The military are still killing people in Aceh.”

Army chief of staff Ryamizard Ryacudu said the army had fought 86 separate encounters with the rebels in the past four weeks, state news agency Antara reported.

Ryacudu said 208 alleged rebels had been killed since December 26, the report said.

Attacks halt:

BANDA ACEH: Indonesian troops have stopped launching attacks against rebels in Aceh so the government can pursue peace talks, the nation’s military chief said on Sunday.

“We are no longer conducting offensive activities to raid GAM bases,” General Endriartono Sutarto told reporters in Banda Aceh, referring to the Free Aceh Movement by its Indonesian acronym. However he said the military would continue to be on alert in Aceh to provide security for international aid workers helping to rehabilitate the province from the December 26 earthquake and tsunamis. — AFP