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EU Pledges Continued Support for Peace Process in Aceh


Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, has traveled to Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged province of Aceh to assess the peace deal between Acehnese separatists and the Indonesian government. Solana vowed that the EU would continue to provide peacekeeping assistance.

Javier Solana met in Aceh Saturday with Peter Feith, the head of the Aceh Monitoring Mission, and with leaders of the Free Aceh Movement.

Solana again noted the delay in passage of a new law on the governance of Aceh, which is needed to pave the way for provincial elections.

Feith says he and Solana discussed the delay.

"What we felt was a concern was the time it took to get the law on governing Aceh approved in the national parliament in Jakarta," he said. "But we were informed today, and I got the clear impression, that work is going to be accelerated now, and there is an expectation that the law on governing Aceh can be passed in the early days of May."

Feith says this would allow local elections to be held before the end of July.

He says Solana was impressed with the progress of the peace deal, and will recommend that the EU extend its peacekeeping mission, known as the AMM.

"He would recommend that, if the elections will take place before the end of July, that AMM could be extended," he added.

The new law was a central element of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that sealed the peace. Feith says that, if the national parliament can pass the law, without too many amendments, there is no reason for the peace process to fail.

"As to its content, we also expect that the law will be in conformity with the MOU," he added. "We don't have full certainty, until we have seen the last version of it, and there may still be difficult discussions in parliament ahead of us."

Feith says another area of disagreements concerns, which former combatants will be given amnesty. Granting the former guerillas amnesty, and allowing them to run in local elections was also a key part of the peace agreement signed last August.

"The other point, where we have a concern, is that there is quite a large number of disputed amnesty cases," he noted. "But we have with us now a lawyer from Sweden, and we have committed to solve all these cases by the end of the mission."

The Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, launched a decades-long struggle for independence from Indonesia in 1976, in which at least 10,000 people have died. However, prompted by the unprecedented death and destruction in the province, caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the rebels agreed to hand in their weapons.

Last week, four exiled GAM leaders returned from Europe. Members of the former guerilla movement are expected to run as candidates in the coming elections.

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