Anything but freedom: Aceh rebels told

Agence France Presse

Banda Aceh, January 22:

The Indonesian government will consider anything except independence for tsunami-hit Aceh province as it tries to broker a peace with separatist rebels, a senior minister said today.

“We will entertain any demand short of independence,” Social Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab, who is overseeing relief operations in Aceh, told reporters in the tsunami-battered capital of Banda Aceh. Shihab also indicated that the government may be willing to accept international help in negotiating an end to the conflict, which it has long regarded as a strictly internal issue.

“This is the time for Indonesia and the global community to do its utmost efforts to get back Aceh into a peaceful period,” he said, without elaborating. Shihab’s comments are the latest effort in the government’s peace offensive for Aceh that was launched immediately after the December 26 earthquake and tsunami disaster, which claimed more than 166,000 lives in the province. Shihab repeated Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s assertion that finding a peaceful solution to the conflict hinged on the rebels putting down their weapons.