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Indonesian Officials Visit Separatist Province - 2001-08-22

A delegation of senior Indonesian ministers has visited the separatist Aceh province amid tight security. The officials are trying to convince local residents that recently approved autonomy measures provide the best hope for the future of the restive region.

Indonesian security forces were on high alert as the delegation of top cabinet ministers and military officers visited Banda Aceh, 1,700 kilometers northwest of Jakarta.

Top security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told local officials the government is evaluating overall policies to settle the problems in the province. But he reiterated that the Indonesian government would not allow an independent state to be created there.

Rebels of the separatist Free Aceh Movement have been fighting for an independent Islamic state for 25 years. Thousands of people have died in the violence.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri earlier this month signed laws granting a measure of autonomy to the province in an effort to appease separatist sentiments. But the rebels have rejected autonomy as insufficient and vow to continue their struggle.

An analyst with Jakarta's Center for Strategic and International Studies, Tommi Lagowo, says dealing with the dispute in Aceh will be a major test for the Megawati government. "By assigning coordinating minister Susilo Bambang to Aceh," Mr. Lagowo said, "could mean that for this government the Aceh issue will be the main test of the government credibility in trying to solve peacefully the domestic problems of Indonesia."

Aceh is just one a several separatist regions challenging the unity of the Indonesian Archipelago.