Fri, Nov 19, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Aceh separatistsreject Jakarta's offer of amnesty

INDONESIAN `FAMILY' The government offered economic aid, increased autonomy and pardons for the militants but did not mention new talks


Indonesia yesterday offered amnesty to separatist militants in Aceh if they drop their bid for independence and return to the "family" of Indonesia, but the rebels quickly rejected the offer.

A spokesman for the Free Aceh Movement said the group would continue its fight for an independent homeland on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

Before leaving for the APEC summit in Chile, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reiterated his government's desire to end the Aceh rebellion that has killed nearly 13,000 people since 1976.

He said the governments' proposal -- which mirrors earlier peace proposals dating back to 1999 -- would also include increased autonomy for the oil- and gas-rich province and an unspecified amount of economic aid.

"The government calls on all [rebel] leaders to stop their action and accept the special autonomy policy to develop Aceh," Yudhoyono said. "The country will give them pardons and provide post-conflict reconstruction assistance as part of our efforts to end the conflict in Aceh."

Yudhoyono said the government wants Acehnese rebels to return "to the big family" of Indonesia, and said peace can be achieved without foreign assistance. However, he did not say whether the offer meant Jakarta would revive peace talks with the rebels -- which were abandoned in May last year after both sides accused the other of violating the six-month pact.

A rebel spokesman, Abdullah Zaini, dismissed the offer but called on Yudhoyono's government to return to the negotiating table.

"Nothing can change our struggle for independence," Zaini said in a phone interview from Sweden. "Aceh is our country and it must be returned to the Acehnese people. We hope the new leader in Indonesia will reopen the door for negotiations and bring peace to Aceh."

During his campaign against former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, Yudhoyono promised to bring peace to the province. Successive military operations have failed to end the insurgency.

Foreign negotiators have pre-dicted Yudhoyono may reopen peace talks with the rebels. He was instrumental in arranging a short-lived truce with the Free Aceh Movement December 2002 when he was security minister.

But the government abandoned the truce in May 2003, launching a military offensive and imposing martial law. Since then, nearly 2,300 suspect rebels and civilians have been killed in the fighting.

In the latest fighting, five suspected rebels were killed on Wednesday by government troops, according military spokesman Arinulya Asnawi. The rebels were killed during gun battles across Aceh, he said.

Indonesia has since returned most authority to civilians in what is known as a civil emergency. But it still allows the military to impose curfews, set up blockades and detain suspects indefinitely.

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