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Cease-Fire Expected in Indonesian Province of Aceh - 2002-11-14

Foreign observers are deploying Saturday in the West Indonesian province of Aceh, as part of preparations for a ceasefire in the decades-old war between the Indonesian government and separatist rebels. Mediators in the peace talks say they expect the two sides to sign a ceasefire within a few weeks.

Officials with the Henri Dunant Center, which has been mediating the Aceh peace talks, are gearing up for what they hope will be an agreement to end 26 years of violence in the breakaway Indonesian province.

An official with the Swiss-based center, Bill Dowell, says the first observers will be orientation teams.

"The purpose will be to explore the area to see what logistic facilities will be available, what will be needed to be brought in, once the agreement is signed and the actual monitoring teams head out."

Mr. Dowell says more than 100 monitors will be deployed around the region. Many will be Indonesian, representing both the government and the rebels. Others reportedly will be former military officials from other Asian countries.

The Swiss center began facilitating talks earlier this year. It hopes a cease-fire will allow an all-inclusive dialogue on the future of the province, which is located on the island of Sumatra.

An estimated 12,000 people have been killed in the violence and thousands more have been brutalized or have disappeared. The Indonesian government has passed a law granting Aceh political autonomy and 70 percent of the revenues from its considerable oil and timber resources. The rebels say they will consider autonomy, but have not abandoned their original goal of independence.

Sources close to the talks say the two sides are near to signing an agreement that would include free and fair elections. They say the accord would also create joint committees to investigate cease-fire violations and human rights abuses and to designate special zones, like schools and mosques, where rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts could begin.

Mr. Dowell of the Swiss center says both sides want to sign the accord despite considerable apprehension.

"The agreement will hopefully end the fighting in Aceh," he said. "And it's such a big step that people are being very careful on both sides and taking their time about it. But that's a necessary thing to do if you want the agreement to hold, and that's what we expect it to do.

Nevertheless, the process has been marred by a government siege of a rebel stronghold in remote mountains southeast of the capital, Banda Aceh. Government officials say they are not attacking the rebels, but trying to keep them surrounded in one place until they sign the agreement. Spokesmen for the rebels say the siege is threatening the cease-fire.