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Indonesia, Aceh Separatists Hold New Round of Talks - 2002-05-09

A new round of peace talks between the Indonesian government and Aceh rebels has resumed Thursday at a secret location in Switzerland. The two-day meeting seeks to bring the two sides closer to ending 25 years of conflict.

Sources close to the negotiations say that Indonesian officials and separatists from the Aceh province are discussing plans for a total cease-fire and ways to build peace that would culminate in staging democratic elections in the province in two years.

Rebel negotiator Bakhtiar Abdullah has said the Free Aceh Movement would be willing to discuss a cease-fire if foreign observers help in the negotiations and monitoring. He said without an end to hostilities, nothing can be worked out.

Swiss negotiators have set up the talks. It is believed that U.S. envoy to the Middle East Anthony Zinni and former Thai foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan are also involved in the mediation efforts.

This is the second time this year Switzerland is hosting negotiations between the Indonesian government and Aceh rebels. At talks in February, Indonesia agreed to an autonomy deal and granted Aceh a bigger share in oil and gas revenues. But the separatists say they want independence, and that is something Jakarta is not ready to accept.

Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, is rich in oil and natural resources. The Free Aceh Movement has been fighting for an independent homeland since 1976. Some 10,000 people are believed to have died in fighting over the past decade.