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Indonesian Government and Aceh Rebels Agree to Another Round of Peace Talks

The Indonesian government and separatist rebels from the Indonesian province of Aceh wrapped up a fourth round of peace talks in the Finnish capital of Helsinki Tuesday on an upbeat note, agreeing to hold further negotiations in July.

Negotiators from the Indonesian government and separatist rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, both sounded optimistic as they agreed to a fifth round of peace talks in Helsinki in July.

Bahtiar Abdulah, a GAM spokesman in Helsinki, says the talks are moving forward.

"I think we have made some good progress in the sense that the negotiation is moving forward, but at the same time we haven't achieved some concrete agreement yet, so far," said Mr. Bahtiar.

The fourth round of talks focused on security, self-government, human rights, the political participation of GAM in Aceh, and the European monitoring of any peace agreement.

Mr. Bahtiar says while both sides are working toward a peace agreement, the outcome will depend on the final agreement.

"Whatever common understanding or common grounds that we have, the determining factor is the final package, which is still yet to be seen," he said. "That's the final picture that we have of this whole exercise that we started in January."

The Indonesian government and GAM first came to the negotiation table in January, after the December 26 earthquake and tsunami struck Aceh, killing over 230,000 people and destroying most of the infrastructure.

The Indonesian military launched an all-out offensive against GAM in 2003 after an earlier truce collapsed.

GAM has been fighting for independence in the oil-and-gas rich province, located on the northern tip of Sumatra, Island since 1976. Over 12,000 people, the majority of them civilians, have died in the conflict.