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Indonesian Government, Aceh Rebels Blamed for Peace Agreement Violations - 2003-02-17

Ceasefire monitors in Indonesia's northern province of Aceh say both government forces and separatist rebels are violating the province's peace agreement. But monitors say the two sides are making progress on plans to lay down their weapons - and they are optimistic that the peace plan remains on track.

Observers from the Henri Dunant Center, or HDC, say they have blamed the two sides for four different violent incidents in Aceh, which resulted in five deaths.

Indonesian soldiers are accused of killing one separatist rebel and two civilians in three different incidents. The rebels are accused of attacking a village and killing two police officers.

According to the peace plan, both sides are required to investigate the violations and punish the offenders. But HDC spokesman Steven Daly said that while the incidents are serious, both sides knew the conflict would not be resolved overnight. "We all regard any deaths of a member of any party or a civilian as a serious incident," he said. "But again, perspective is the order of the day. The number of serious incidents that have been taking place are a fraction of what they were just two months ago. "

The Indonesian government and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement signed a peace deal in December. Many analysts consider it the best chance to end a conflict has simmered since 1976, when the Free Aceh Movement declared the province independent of Indonesia.

According to the peace agreement, elections for a provincial legislature are to be held, and Aceh will be allowed more power over its abundant oil and natural gas reserves.

But some Indonesian government officials have voiced concern about the plan. Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is quoted by local media as saying the peace plan is on the brink of collapse because the rebels are telling the local population that the plan will lead to a referendum on Aceh independence.

The government has consistently said it will never let Aceh break free of Indonesia. The HDC does not comment on individual statements by government ministers. But Mr. Daly said the demilitarization phase of the peace plan is on track. Both sides are expected to lay down their arms over the next five months.