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Indonesia Extends Aceh Emergency But Offers Clemency to Rebels

The Indonesian government has extended by six months a state of emergency in the rebellious northern province of Aceh. But, Indonesia's new president has also said he will look for new ways to solve the long-running conflict, and has offered clemency for any rebels who surrender to government forces.

Indonesia's new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, announced the renewal of the state of emergency Thursday, a day before the previous six-month period was due to expire.

Aceh has been living under first military and then civil emergency regulations, which suspend certain civil liberties and give the army greater flexibility. The emergency was called in the wake of the failure 18 months ago of a ceasefire agreement.

Mr. Yudhoyono said Friday that the renewed state of civil emergency would be reviewed monthly, and could be revoked before the six months are up. He also said the government would continue to search for alternative means of pacifying the province, and offered clemency to any rebels who give up the fight and surrender.

Sastrohandoyo Wiryono was the government negotiator who agreed to the failed ceasefire agreement two years ago. He points out that Mr. Yudhoyono won 80 percent of the votes in Aceh in September's presidential elections, giving him a strong starting base for any peace negotiations.

"I think he has the trust of the people and he should use this as a mandate, and he is believed to be the man of peace in Aceh, so he I think has the opportunity, a golden opportunity I might say," said Sastrohandoyo Wiryono.

The independence fighters, known as GAM after the Indonesian initials for Free Aceh Movement, initially started fighting in the 1970s for a bigger share of the province's mineral wealth. The rebellion evolved into a full-fledged but low-level separatist movement, but the level of violence escalated sharply in the 1990s.

More than 13,000 people have died in Aceh in the past 15 years, most of them victims of the military. What was initially a small movement grew as the government's violent reaction to the rebellion alienated a broad swathe of the population, increasing the guerrillas' support base.

Analysts say any peace deal will have to take into account the lingering distrust many Acehnese feel for the policies of Jakarta.