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Indonesia Welcomes Arrest of Aceh Separatists in Sweden - 2004-06-16


Authorities in Indonesia have welcomed the arrest of Aceh separatist leaders living in Sweden. But rebels in the province say they will continue fighting for independence from Indonesia. Indonesia has for months been calling for the arrest of the exiled leadership of the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM. On Tuesday, Swedish authorities moved, arresting the Free Aceh Movement's self-designated prime minister and foreign minister and questioning Hasan di Tiro, the man who has led the fight against Indonesian rule of Aceh for more than a quarter of a century.

The arrested men, Malik Mahmud and Zaini Abdullah, are being held on suspicion of violating international law.

They, and the 74-year-old Mr. di Tiro, who suffers from poor health, say they are merely the political voice of the separatist movement. But Indonesian authorities accuse them of sending instructions to the rebel fighters and hailed Sweden's actions.

A spokesman for the separatists vowed to continue the fight, despite the detention of the rebel leadership.

Kirsten Schulze, with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization in Jakarta, says the arrests will have only limited impact on the ground, but may have political ramifications within the separatist movement.

"In terms of the movement, at the moment in the short term, I don't think it is going to make a difference," she said. "I think it might at a different level. I think it might give GAM a reality check because they had managed to convince themselves that they had far more international support than they did and I think this move by the Swedish government will serve as a reality check."

More than 13,000 people have died in the fighting, most of them civilians caught between the rebels and the Indonesian army's increasingly brutal attempts to suppress them.

The Indonesian government recently lifted a year-long period of martial law in Aceh. Although the mineral-rich province is under a civilian administrator, there are 50,000 members of the security forces in the area and many civil liberties remain suspended.

Indonesia is in the middle of a presidential campaign. The front runner, former security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has previously been involved in trying to find a negotiated solution to the conflict.

But Ms. Schulze warns that even if Mr. Yudhoyono is elected, he will have to deal with, what she calls, the institutional inertia that has stalled so many other reforms in Indonesia.

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