Thu, Sep 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Yudhoyono has plans for Aceh

SEPERATIST CONFLICT The likely winner of Indonesia's presidential poll said that violence was not the answer to the war in the province, but rejected secession


Indonesian presidential front-runner Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on yesterday called for a peaceful end to Indonesia's bloodiest internal conflict, the 28-year separatist war in Aceh province.

The former general and security chief in President Megawati Sukarnoputri's administration negotiated a short-lived peace deal with the Free Aceh Movement last year. The deal collapsed when Megawati sided with hardline generals who launched an offensive in May last year that has left at least 2,200 people dead, but has done little to end the insurgency.

Yudhoyono has publicly rejected any possibility of allowing the oil and gas-rich province to secede from the sprawling archipelago nation.

But yesterday, he told a group of teachers visiting his home on the outskirts of Jakarta that he would work to settle the conflict by peaceful means.

"Let us not just go ahead with the military operation," Yudhoyono said. "Our country must remain united and on that there is no compromise. But [the conflict] must be resolved in a fair manner and as peacefully as possibly."

With 93 million of the estimated 125 million votes counted yesterday, Yudhoyono was leading with 61 percent while Megawati had 39 percent, according to the General Election Commission. Final results are expected in the next few days.

Yudhoyono has declined so far to claim victory and Megawati has not conceded. The official tally is expected to be announced on Oct. 5 and the new president is to be sworn in Oct. 20 for a five-year term.

After meeting with the president, Vice President Hamzah Haz said Megawati wouldn't comment on the election until official results are released.

"As long as things are not over, there could be a miracle," Haz said with a laugh. "Something could happen. But if the final results remain as they appear now and if there are no irregularities ... then of course we will accept the result."

The former general's likely overwhelming win has raised hopes he would use his popularity to push through parliament much-needed legal reforms, crack down on rampant graft, intensify the anti-terrorism fight in the world's largest Muslim nation and end the bloodshed in Aceh.

Yudhoyono, who has studied in the US, would be the fourth head of state since nationwide protests forced former dictator Suharto to resign in 1998 after 32 years in power.

The 55-year-old was expected to announce his Cabinet lineup within the next 10 days and begin setting his policy agenda, aides said.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Free Aceh Movement said they expected the war to continue regardless of who wins the Indonesian elections.

"Whatever happens in Jakarta is irrelevant to the people of Aceh because they are still getting killed, tortured and oppressed every day," rebel spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah said.

Nevertheless, international mediators who participated in the stalled process say they expect the talks to resume under Yudhoyono's administration. They said that negotiations could be back on track as early as next January.

The war in the province of 4 million people has been going on intermittently since 1870, when Dutch colonial troops occupied the independent sultanate.

The latest round of fighting began in 1976, and the rebels are now demanding a UN-supervised independence referendum akin to the one that ended Indonesian rule in East Timor in 1999.

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