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Indonesia: Treason Proceedings Begin for 5 Negotiators - 2003-07-29

Authorities in Indonesia have started treason proceedings against five negotiators from the Free Aceh Movement. Observers say the move makes prospects for a peaceful end to the separatist conflict in Indonesia's northernmost province even more distant.

Three men went on trial in Aceh's capital Banda Aceh Tuesday and another two are expected in court Thursday. All five helped negotiate the short-lived cease-fire agreement between the Indonesian government and the separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM.

They were arrested two months ago at the hotel in Banda Aceh where they have lived for nearly three years, while negotiating the agreement. Their detention on May 19th came just hours after the five-month agreement collapsed, and Jakarta declared a military emergency in the province.

Kirsten Schulze is a senior lecturer in history at the London School of Economics. She believes Jakarta's decision to put the men on trial is indicative of the government's hard-line position, and does not bode well for future talks.

"I think putting the five negotiators on trial is going to prejudice further negotiations," she says. "I think that from the Indonesian side, it is sending a very clear message that they are not interested in negotiations in the near future."

The cease-fire agreement gave the province a rare interlude of peace, after more than a quarter of a century of conflict between the Indonesian authorities and Aceh separatists.

Since the agreement collapsed, hundreds more deaths have been added to the estimated 12,000 dead from past clashes. The government says, although civilians have died in the most recent fighting, most of the dead were GAM activists. Human rights organizations say the army is under-reporting the number of deaths, and inflating the number of GAM members among them.

Analysts believe that no military solution is possible for Aceh. The decision to put the last group of GAM negotiators on trial is not likely to encourage the separatists to send another group to discuss peace.