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Indonesian Government, Aceh Rebels Start New Round of Talks

  • Nancy-Amelia Collins

A new round of peace talks between the Indonesian government and separatist rebels from Aceh Province has opened in Helsinki. The talks in Finland's capital began just hours after security forces killed four suspected rebels in Aceh.

The new phase of negotiations between the Indonesian government and separatist rebels is aimed at ending the nearly three-decades-old conflict in the province of Aceh.

Security arrangements are expected to top the agenda, just more than a week after Jakarta lifted a year-old state of emergency in the oil and gas rich province at the tip of northern Sumatra.

This is the fourth round of talks since the December 26 earthquake and tsunami devastated Aceh, killing more than 230,000 people and destroying most of the infrastructure.

In the wake of the disaster, the rebel Free Aceh Movement called a cease-fire to help with relief efforts, but sporadic fighting in the province continues.

Damien Kingsbury, a political advisor to the Free Aceh Movement in Helsinki says the latest violence in Aceh, plus opposition to the talks from members of Indonesia's parliament are to be expected.

"One might see this as just trying to destabilize the situation a bit to shake up the positions," he said. "There obviously are people in Jakarta who are opposed to this process including from the Indonesian military."

But Mr. Kingsbury says the Free Aceh Movement is upbeat about the new round of negotiations.

"There are a couple of substantive issues, such as the possibility of having political parties in Aceh, which still have not yet been accepted and these really are quite fundamental to any agreement," he said. "But we are moving in the right direction, there is certainly a lot of goodwill around."

The matter of security remains a thorny issue. Jakarta says it will not pull out its security forces from the province, an issue the Free Aceh Movement insists will be on the table in this round of talks.

More than 12,000 people, the majority of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

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