The return of a top separatist official to Indonesia's Aceh province is another sign that the peace process aimed at ending one of the world's most intractable conflicts is on track, an adviser to the Free Aceh Movement said yesterday.
"The peace process is generally going pretty well, and both sides seem to be sticking by the agreement," said Damien Kingsbury, an Australian academic who serves as an adviser to the rebel government-in-exile. "It may even have passed the point of no return."
He was speaking as Bakhtiar Abdullah, a member of the rebel leadership, was due to arrive in the provincial capital for the first time since the government and the Free Aceh Movement signed an accord in August that will grant wide-ranging autonomy to the province of 4 million people on the northern tip of Sumatra island.
The agreement, which is being supervised by a mission consisting of 250 monitors from the EU and Southeast Asian countries, calls for the disarmament of the rebels and the withdrawal of part of the Indonesian garrison.
The accord also calls for the gradual reintegration of the separatists -- previously banned under Indonesia's draconian internal security laws -- into political life. Their candidates will be allowed to take part in municipal and regional elections scheduled for next year, and a separatist party will take part in the next general election in 2009.
So far, rebel leaders have refused to return from exile in Sweden citing security concerns. But yesterday, Abdullah -- the movement's spokesman and key aide to its top leader Hasan di Tiro -- was due to fly in from Sweden.
It was not immediately clear whether di Tiro or other separatist leaders would follow.
"There is no doubt that there are concerns [over Abdullah's safety]," Kingsbury said in a telephone interview from Melbourne, Australia. "But on balance it's a necessary step because if he didn't go it would be destabilizing."