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Indonesia Cancels Peace Talks With Aceh Rebels - 2003-04-24

The Indonesian government says it is canceling peace talks with separatists from Aceh Province. The talks were intended to salvage Aceh's peace process, which may now be on the verge of collapse.

Indonesia's top security minister says the government will not attend a special meeting in Geneva, marking the latest snag in peace negotiations between the government and the separatists of Aceh Province.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says the Indonesian government is officially canceling its delegation's attendance at the Geneva meeting.

The meeting would have brought together government officials, rebel leaders, and members of the Swiss organization, the Henri Dunant Center, which mediated the December peace accord now in danger of collapsing.

The emergency session was scrapped at the last minute, as Mr. Yudhoyono accused the rebels of violating the cease-fire and continuing to push for Aceh's independence.

Mr. Yudhoyono says the government will hold its own emergency meeting, without saying when it would be, to determine its next steps.

The cancellation follows days of bickering on a venue and date for the meeting.

The peace plan for the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement was meant to end more than two decades of fighting in Aceh. Thousands have died in the conflict.

But since the beginning, the two sides have interpreted the accord differently. The government says that by signing the plan, the rebels agreed to drop their demands for independence. As a concession, Aceh would receive broader powers through a special autonomy law.

But the rebels say the accord left open the possibility of an independence referendum that would allow the Acehnese to vote on their political future.

As part of the plan, the Henri Dunant Center deployed scores of international observers in field offices throughout Aceh to monitor the cease-fire between government troops and the rebels.

Last month, the Center was forced to recall its monitors to the provincial capital, after they were threatened by violence.

The presence of monitors was credited for a period of relative peace and stability in the province, but since the withdrawal of the observers, cease-fire violations have reportedly soared.