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Indonesia, Aceh Rebels Sign Accord to End 20 Years of Separatist Violence - 2002-12-09

Indonesia and separatist rebels in Aceh Province have signed a peace agreement in Geneva ending more than two decades of violence that has killed thousands of people. Both sides to the conflict have warned that implementing the accord will be difficult.

Just after the documents were signed, the director of the Henry Dunant Centre, Martin Griffiths, congratulated the two sides on their courage in agreeing to end their long-running war. "Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world with daily news of tragedies, of atrocities and of inhumanity," he said. "Today, for this moment let us give thanks for the bright light of peace and the evidence it gives us of humanity. Thank you very much."

The Henry Dunant Centre has spent nearly three years mediating the Aceh negotiations.

The Indonesian and Aceh representatives in Geneva say implementing the peace accord will be difficult. Indonesia's Chief Negotiator, Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, called this a victory for both sides. But, he warned it is not yet a final victory. "There is still a great deal of work to be done," he noted, "a great deal of effort to be exerted before we can say that durable peace has been enshrined in Aceh and we begin to reap the harvest of that peace."

The rebel Free Aceh Movement, which signed the accord, says its goal is still independence. But the Movement's Prime Minister Malik Mahmood said there are mechanisms in the peace agreement for resolving the problem. "Eventually, we will let the Acehnese decide whether they want to continue to strike for independence or they will be part of Indonesia," he said. "That is up to them to decide in elections."

The agreement calls for an end to hostilities, for the Aceh rebels to disarm under international supervision, and for elections for a regional government in the oil-rich province to be held in two years.

A spokesman for the Henry Dunant Centre, Bill Dowell, said this deal has a better chance of succeeding than previous ones because of strong international backing. "The government of Jakarta has placed its credibility on stopping this [conflict]," he said. "There is going to be a huge international presence there, and if the violence continues, a lot of people will see it and they will know who is responsible for it."

Mr. Dowell said peace in Aceh would be good for Indonesia's economy. He said more than 20 countries have promised to help reconstruct the province if peace takes hold.

At least 12,000 people have died in the Aceh conflict in the past decade.