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Aceh Rebels Offer to Put Demands for Independence on Hold

  • Tim Johnston

Indonesia's separatist Aceh rebels have offered to put their independence demands on hold, if the government agrees to a referendum within 10 years. But the government quickly rejected the idea, placing future peace talks in question.

Rebels from Indonesia's Aceh province made the offer Monday,- two days after their exiled leadership held talks with Indonesian government ministers in Finland. Those talks, the first in 20 months, ended without a hoped-for official cease-fire, but with plans for more negotiations soon.

The rebels say they will suspend independence demands now, if they can hold an independence referendum within 10 years.

Presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng says a referendum is out of the question, but the government will consider anything short of independence.

"We came to Helsinki to offer this whole solution, permanent and comprehensive solution within the context of special autonomy. And there are some positive signs, in that they are trying to study the special autonomy law, but we are offering only a solution within the context of special autonomy," he said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono offered the special autonomy plan in the wake of December's tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people in Aceh and decimated the province.

Few observers believe it will be easy to overcome the differences, entrenched by more than a quarter of a century of bitter conflict. But they say these peace proposals and new talks are the best chance for peace in Aceh for some time.