Mon, May 12, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Dilemma in Aceh: war or peace?

`POSITIVE' RESULTS As government army reinforcements arrived on Sumatra, talks were held between exiled leaders of the Free Aceh movement and Jakarta

AFP , BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA

International mediators made last-ditch efforts yesterday to avert a return to all-out war in Indonesia's Aceh as bloodshed continued in the province.

The government has given separatist rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) till today to announce they are shelving their independence demand and are prepared to start disarming.

Fresh troops have been pouring into the province in Sumatra island in recent days in expectation of a military offensive.

David Gorman, local representative of the Henry Dunant Center (HDC) mediation group, said mediators met GAM representatives in Stockholm on Saturday to try to persuade them to talk to the Jakarta government.

GAM's exiled top leadership is based in Sweden.

The talks yielded "positive" results, Gorman said.

"We are still talking with the government and seeing what type of last-minute achievement can be made. We are doing whatever we can do to avoid a military operation and renewed fighting," Gorman said.

"The people of Aceh are generally very troubled and concerned about the situation."

More than 50 truce monitors from Thailand, the Philippines and Norway are still in Aceh, Gorman said.

Whether they leave depends on the results of talks between the HDC and the government in Jakarta, Gorman said.

"If we are notified by the government that we should leave, then we will leave. But we are still awaiting the outcome of this last-minute effort."

Rebels killed a policeman and critically wounded another, police said yesterday.

The member of the Brimob paramilitary force was killed on Saturday in an ambush in East Aceh, they said.

Rebels shot and critically wounded another policeman in North Aceh, they said.

The government says GAM must meet its terms as a precondition for any Joint Council meeting aimed at saving the Dec. 9 peace pact. GAM has rejected the deadline and says it wants any meeting held in Switzerland. The government insists talks should take place in Indonesia.

The joint council groups top leaders from both sides as well as the mediators.

A lower-level Joint Security Committee, also grouping the three parties, is responsible for monitoring day-to-day breaches of the pact.

Four of five GAM members on the committee have been arrested and were declared suspects Saturday in bombings which police have blamed on GAM in Jakarta and Medan, a city in North Sumatra bordering Aceh.

GAM military spokesman Sofyan Dawod lambasted the arrests as "barbaric."

"We strongly reject the Indonesian government's argument that they have been arrested because they wanted to flee. If they had wanted to flee, they would have obviously joined the TNA [GAM's armed forces]," Dawod said in a statement.

The rebels say they have ordered their forces to return to their bases and take up defensive positions in expectation of an attack.

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