04/12/2005, 00.00
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Aceh rebels reject Jakarta's offer

Talks between separatists and the central government begin today in Finland. The Free Aceh Movement demands the complete withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the province.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A day before peace talks were scheduled to start in Helsinki (Finland), separatists from Indonesia's Aceh province dismissed a government offer of self-government demanding instead that Jakarta cease any military operation against the insurgents and withdraws all its troops, this according to Bakhtiar Abdullah, spokesman for Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM).

The rebels said that self-government was inadequate and that it would not stop repression in the oil-rich province.

They also demanded the release of four of their negotiators who were arrested by Indonesian authorities two years ago.

Delegations from the two sides meet today till next Saturday in talks to find a solution to a crisis that has been simmering on and off since rebels began fighting for the territory's independence 30 years ago.

Indonesia's vice president Jusuf Kalla said that an agreement could be reached by July on the basis of the so-called special autonomy law which the government in Jakarta adopted three years ago but never implemented.

GAM announced a unilateral truce in the war because of the December 26 earthquake and tsunami that killed at least 130,000 people in the province. But government troops have continued anti-insurgency operations, killing 200 to 300 rebel fighters in January and February.

The rebels have been demanding free elections for a regional parliament, the full withdrawal of the 50,000 Indonesian troops and paramilitary police deployed to the province, and an UN-supervised referendum on independence.

But Jakarta fears a repetition of the 1999 independence referendum in its former territory of East Timor, where 80 per cent of the population opted for independence despite a brutal military campaign to intimidate voters.

The two parties met again this January after an earlier peace process collapsed in 2003 in the wake of an army anti-rebel offensive that caused the death of 3,000 people.

A second meeting took place in February under Finnish mediation.

Finland's Crisis Management Initiative is the main sponsor of the negotiations.

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See also
Government, Aceh rebels agree to peace deal
Ex Aceh rebels disband their army
Aceh prepares for first post-peace polls
GAM leaders back in Indonesia after 30 years in exile
Indonesia wraps up 2nd phase of Aceh troop pullout


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