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Cease-fire Monitors Leave Aceh; Military Action Looms - 2003-05-12


International ceasefire monitors who had been deployed in Indonesia's Aceh Province have been pulled out, as the prospect of military action looms. Rebel leaders face a deadline to give up their demands for independence.

Steve Daly, a spokesman for the Henry Dunant Center, said roughly 55 international monitors flew out of Aceh's provincial capital. The HDC mediated peace talks between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, and organized the peace monitors.

"At about 9:15 local time this morning, the international monitors left Banda Aceh for Medan, the largest city in Sumatra, where they will remain pending successful efforts to bring the two parties, GAM and the government of Indonesia, together at the negotiating table," Mr. Daly said.

During the past several days, the two sides have been talking in Stockholm, Sweden, where the Free Aceh Movement's senior leaders live in exile.

The rebels and the Indonesian government signed a peace accord in December and began a ceasefire. Aceh saw a dramatic drop in violence.

But recently the two sides have reached an impasse. By signing the accord the rebels, in effect, said they would accept increased autonomy for Aceh as an alternative to independence.

Rebel leaders say the agreement is a step toward breaking free of Indonesian rule, something the government adamantly opposes.

Earlier this month, the Indonesian government set Monday as a deadline for the rebels to drop their independence demands or face a possible military offensive. Although new troops have begun arriving in the province, Mr. Daly said there is still some hope fighting can be avoided.

"A military operation conducted by the government is certainly not what we as peace facilitators had hoped for. But hopefully, first of all, we can bring the two sides together before any military operation begins," he said.

Thousands of people have died in fighting in Aceh, which began in the 1970s.

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