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Megawati’s Aceh Visit Still Scheduled - 2001-09-07

Indonesia's president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is preparing to pay a one-day visit to the troubled province of Aceh Saturday. The trip is aimed at ending clashes between the military and separatist rebels in which thousands of people have died.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri plans to meet with local military and civilian officials during the visit, but has no plans to see leaders of the Free Aceh Movement, which has been fighting for independence in the remote region.

The trip is being presented as a trust-building visit that could improve prospects for ending the violence, in which 6,000 people have been killed in the past 10 years.

Just last month, President Megawati apologized for what she termed "inappropriate national policies." She later signed measures granting some autonomy to Aceh, allowing the local government to retain a majority of revenues from its vast natural resources. However, she rejected independence for Aceh. The rebels have rejected the autonomy proposal as insufficient, and vow to continue their struggle.

A few weeks ago, six negotiators from the Free Aceh Movement were detained by Indonesian security forces. Five of them have since been released. But analysts say suspicion and mistrust between the rebels and the Indonesian military continue to hinder negotiations on a solution to the violence.

A delegation of senior Indonesian officials, led by Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, visited Aceh two weeks ago to prepare for the presidential trip. The minister told local officials the government is re-evaluating is overall policies, in order to settle the problems in the province. But he re-iterated that it would not allow an independent state to be created there.