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Indonesia Says Aceh Elections to Be Held in August

The Indonesian government says elections in Aceh province will be held this August, in accordance with the peace agreement reached last year between the government and separatist rebels.

The elections are a key part of the peace agreement reached between Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement last August, which ended nearly three decades of conflict.

Under the accord, known as the M.O.U., parliament must pass a governing law for Aceh before elections can be held in the province, which sits on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

The law will allow former rebels to create a political party - an important provision of the peace agreement - as well as grant the province self government.

It will also give Aceh as much as 70 percent of the revenue from its rich natural resources, mainly oil and gas.

But lawmakers, who were supposed to have passed the law last month, are still debating the bill.

Presidential spokesman Andi Mallerangeng says the government is confident the law will be passed soon so elections can be held in August.

"We are hoping that will be passed as soon as possible," he said. "All the parties in the M.O.U. understand sometimes the difficulties in terms of timeline in passing the law but I think everybody wants to make sure the law is being passed as soon as possible in accordance with the M.O.U."

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, urged Jakarta to speed up the process to pass the Aceh governing law during a visit here last week.

The European Union heads an international monitoring mission overseeing the Aceh peace accord. Although the mission was supposed to end in March, it was extended until June because the governing law has not been passed.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said Sunday he will ask the EU to extend the Aceh Monitoring Mission, or A.M.M., until August to oversee the elections.

Presidential spokesman Mallerangeng says all sides approve of the work that has been done by the monitors.

"I think everybody appreciates the role that has been played by the A.M.M. and everybody understands and appreciates their good work so far in Aceh, supervising the whole peace process in Aceh," he said.

The Indonesian government has withdrawn nearly half of its $50,000 soldiers from Aceh while the Free Aceh Movement has handed its declared 840 weapons, as the peace accord required.

Both sides say they remain committed to the peace process and do not view the time lag in passing the Aceh law as a hindrance to the M.O.U.