Sun, Jul 17, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Aceh rebels seek to form own party

POLITICAL DEMANDS As a part of a treaty that's being hammered out with the government, Aceh's separatists want their own political party

AP , HELSINKI, FINLAND

Acehnese separatists and the Indonesian government negotiators said yesterday that a treaty to end one of the world's longest-running wars hinged on an agreement to allow the rebels to form their own political party.

"The draft of the accord is almost complete, only two paragraphs remain in question," said Damian Kingsbury, an Australian academic who is part of the Acehnese delegation at the talks.

The rebels have agreed to set aside their demand for independence but insist the government give them the right to form their own political party in Aceh, an oil- and gas-rich province at the tip of Sumatra island which has been wracked by a separatist conflict since 1976 and was ravaged by the Asian tsunami on Dec. 26.

Key issue unresolved

Kingsbury said the key issue of political representation remained unresolved because Indonesian electoral law allows only for nationally based political groupings.

The government has proposed overcoming this by allowing candidates of the Free Aceh Movement run for office as members of existing Indonesian parties.

But the Acehnese have rejected the offer saying they seek a comprehensive and democratic solution that would allow all groups in Aceh to form political parties.

Currently, every party in Indonesia must have representation in at least half of the country's 32 provinces and must be headquartered in Jakarta.

Kingsbury has said that the Indonesian law should not be regarded as "sacrosanct."

"Their electoral law has been changed three times in the past six years, so why not change it again?" he said.

Both sides have reported significant progress in the talks which opened on Tuesday.

Another major hurdle, the demilitarization of the province where Indonesia maintains 50,000 troops and paramilitary police and the disarmament of the 5,000-strong rebel force, was overcome after agreement was reached that an international mission cosisting of at least 200 EU observers and about 100 monitors from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would oversee the process.

Fifth round

This is the fifth round of negotiations since the peace process was restarted after earthquake and tsunami that devastated the region of 4.1 million people.

But negotiators have thus far been unable to overcome the main stumbling block, the issue of political representation for the separatists.

Jakarta fears that an expected victory in local elections by the separatists would give them a mandate to press their demands for an internationally supervised independence referendum akin to the one that ended Indonesian rule in East Timor in 1999.

Meanwhile, Minister of Justice Hamid Alawudin, the head of the Indonesian delegations at the talks in the Finnish capital said he expected the negotiations would end yesterday.

"The government of Indonesia is hoping there will be no outstanding points that will prevent the signing of the [peace agreement] next month," he said.

Fighting in Aceh has been going on intermittently since 1873, when Dutch colonialists invaded the previously independent sultanate. The current round of the war started in 1976.

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