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Megawati Visits Aceh Days After Peace Deal Signed


Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri visits the province of Aceh just days after her government signed a peace accord with the Acehnese rebels.

President Megawati's visit Tuesday comes as rebels charge that at least 10 people have been killed in the province since the peace deal was signed last week.

Military officials deny the report. They say there have been small clashes, but blame the rebels for violating the ceasefire.

The accord aims to end 26 years of conflict between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). GAM spokesman Tengku Isnandar Al-Pasee says he expects President Megawati's visit will encourage the military to follow the agreement.

International negotiators who helped broker the peace accord warn violations are likely to occur, but say it is the best hope the province has of finding a lasting peace.

The Henry Dunant Center in Switzerland brokered the deal. It has sent international peace monitors to the regional capitol of Banda Aceh. They will hold their first meeting Friday to investigate violations of the truce and to help monitor security.

The peace accord grants wide autonomy for Aceh, and allows the province to keep the majority of its wealth from abundant natural resources, mainly oil and gas. Regional elections are scheduled to be held in 2004.

Mrs. Megawati is expected to talk with local religious and community leaders during her two-day visit.

During her last visit in September, the Indonesian president never left the airport due to security concerns.

Despite the ceasefire violations, the GAM spokesman says he is confident the accord will hold.

Human rights groups say the peace accord will not bring to justice those responsible for rights violations in Aceh. Although GAM has been accused of some abuses in the conflict, rights groups say most were committed by the Indonesian military.

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