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Indonesian President Visits War-Torn Northern Province

Indonesia's recently-elected president has visited the country's war-torn province of Aceh, the scene of one of Asia's longest-running separatist rebellions. Hopes are high that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will give fresh impetus to attempts to bring peace to the restive province.

Analysts say the fact that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has chosen Aceh for his first major trip since taking office last month is an indication of the importance he sets on solving the quarter-century-long conflict in the province.

President Yudhoyono has promised to look for new ways to reconcile the differences between the government and the separatists. The previous administration, after briefly trying a negotiated solution, attempted to impose peace by using the army to crack down on the insurgents.

The importance of finding a solution was underlined Wednesday and Thursday, when 11 people were killed. The military said the rebels were responsible for at least three of the deaths, including that of a 10-year-old child. Such army claims are routinely disputed by the rebels.

Speaking to a hall of military and civilian officials in the Acehnese capital Banda Aceh Friday, President Yudhoyono says that he wants to solve the problem through talks. However, he will not be meeting any rebel representatives on this trip.

As an initial step towards peace, the president has already offered an amnesty to rebel fighters who surrender. In the longer term, he says he is looking at granting greater autonomy to the province as a way of meeting some of the separatists' demands for more control over the affairs of the region.

The previous short-lived ceasefire, which collapsed 18 months ago, was facilitated by international negotiators, but Mr. Yudhoyono has ruled out any role for foreigners in future discussions.

Human rights organizations say that some 13,000 people have died since the conflict escalated sharply in the early 1990s. Many of them have been civilians.