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Australia Concerned Aceh Rebel Victory Could Trigger Indonesia Breakup - 2003-05-25

Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer says a victory for separatist rebels in the Indonesian province of Aceh would result in a "disastrous security situation" in Southeast Asia.

Australia thinks a rebel victory in Aceh could trigger the breakup of Indonesia. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the government wants to see a negotiated settlement to the unrest in Aceh.

On an Australian Broadcasting Corporation program Sunday, Mr. Downer called on the rebels to lay down their arms. He said it would be a disaster for Southeast Asia if the Aceh rebels succeeded in their separatist fight. "We've got enough problems in the region without compounding them by supporting the disintegration of the republic of Indonesia," he said.

Jakarta launched a military offensive in Aceh last week, after a five-month-old peace accord broke down. There have been reports of heavy fighting in the province in northern Indonesia, and of thousands of civilians forced to flee their homes.

The campaign in Aceh is Indonesia's largest military operation since it invaded East Timor in 1975. In 1999, the province seceded from Indonesian control. Australian troops played a key role in restoring order after East Timor's vote for independence ignited a wave of violence by pro-Jakarta forces.

Foreign Minister Downer makes it clear that Canberra's position on Aceh is far removed from its position on East Timor. Mr. Downer says there is no reason for Australia to intervene in Aceh.

The Australian ambassador to Indonesia reports that officials in Jakarta still hope they can negotiate an end to the fighting with the Free Aceh Movement.