Indonesian President upbeat about peace talks with Aceh rebels

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday said he was optimistic about the prospects for peace talks with Aceh separatist rebels, but stressed Jakarta's line that the province remained part of Indonesia. During the talks, rebel demands for independence were shelved.

"I am glad to tell you that actually talks are moving well, even though there are still issues that we have to settle," Mr Susilo said.

Indonesia and representatives of the Free Aceh Movement will meet for a fifth round of peace talks on July 12 in Helsinki under the auspices of Finish President Martti Ahtisaari.

Any deal to end their 30-year war likely to be monitored by European Union peacekeepers.

"The best solution is helping Aceh with the special autonomy status," President Susilo said. "I will not set a time line, but we have to accelerate the process. Sooner is better because what we need is a peaceful, prosperous and stable Aceh as part of the Republic of Indonesia," he added.

Peace talks, which collapsed in May 2003, were revived after the December 2004 tsunami that killed up to 160,000 people in Aceh.

Officials said talks have virtually wound down after separatist leaders submitted proposals on political and security issues, which would now be reviewed in Jakarta.

The updated document, containing concessions and compromises made by both sides on such difficult issues as political participation and a ceasefire, will be studied by the Indonesian government and legislators, and form the basis for the next round of talks.

Muslim Aceh rebels have been fighting for independence of their oil/gas- and mineral-rich province of 4.3 million people since 1976.

Indonesian troops were sent in 1988 to quash the separatist movement. But they have since been accused of widespread human rights violations by human rights groups.

Since the beginning of the conflict, 12,000 people have been killed.