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Talks Between Indonesian, Rebels Not Likely Soon - 2003-05-20

The international community is calling on the Indonesian government and Acehnese rebels to return to peace talks, after Jakarta launched a military assault on the province. But there is no sign that talks are likely to take place soon.

Australia, the United States, Japan and the European Union want the fighting between Indonesian troops and separatists to end and the talking to resume.

Indonesia launched an offensive against the Free Aceh Movement, called GAM, on Monday.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer spoke Tuesday about the breakdown in talks. "We obviously regret that that's happened, and we hope that it's going to be possible to get back onto the diplomatic path before too long," he said.

Last-ditch efforts to revive the peace process collapsed after talks in Tokyo on Sunday. The government had demanded that the Free Aceh Movement drop its demands for independence and accept Jakarta's offer of increased autonomy for the province. But the rebels refused.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. government thinks options for peace were not fully explored in Tokyo.

An Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman says the government did everything it could to avoid a return to war. Marty Natalegawa says despite the fighting, the door to dialogue remains open. "If GAM comes forward and accepts the conditions that we had clearly set, then we can have that dialogue," he says. "But certainly the Indonesian government would not be the one to actively pursue it at this time - because we've tried our best."

Many observers have said the breakdown in the peace process was almost inevitable - because the accord signed last year was too broad. The government interpreted it as a sign the rebels had dropped their independence demands. But the rebels, who have been fighting nearly 30 years, say an independence referendum has always been an option.

The second day of military operations brought hundreds of additional paratroopers into Aceh, after more than four hundred arrived Monday. The new paratroopers are expected to fight near the town of Takengon in southern Aceh - which officials say is a rebel stronghold.

Also on Monday, the government fired rockets at a suspect rebel base, and about five hundred marines landed on a beach in eastern Aceh.

About 30,000 Indonesian troops are in Aceh, fighting an estimated five thousand rebels.