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Swiss Peace Group Withdraws Staff from Aceh Field Offices Amid New Violence - 2003-04-08

In Indonesia's Aceh province, officials from the Swiss group Henri Dunant Center, the HDC, say they are withdrawing staff from field offices because of violent threats. Meanwhile, nine people have died in the province's worst violence since the HDC mediated a peace deal in December.

The peace process between the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement catapulted backward Monday.

Nine people died in the worst violence in Aceh since a peace deal was signed in December, and peace negotiators from the Henry Dunant Center announced they will pull back monitors to the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, as soon as possible.

Henry Dunant Center spokesman Steven Daly said the security of the monitors is at risk. "We will be relocating our monitors temporarily to Banda Aceh until ... the government can guarantee the security of the monitors in the field," he said.

The Henry Dunant Center was brought in to negotiate an end to more than 20 years of fighting between the government and Free Aceh rebels.

The Joint Security Committee, a body made up of Henry Dunant Center officials, and representatives from the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement has 28 teams to monitor compliance with the peace plan. But Mr. Daly said that, for the moment, that has to end. "We can not risk leaving them out there when we have seen ... repeatedly, that organized demonstrators will come and take violent action against them," he stressed.

Two offices in south Aceh have been shut in the past two days after being ransacked by violent demonstrators. Another office in the town of Takengon, in Central Aceh, was closed after being attacked last month. Mr. Daly says protesters threatened to use force to close another office, where a live hand grenade was found last month, if the monitors did not leave by Wednesday.

In each case, police said the demonstrators were angry because Joint Security Committee monitors had not followed up on alleged ceasefire violations committed by the Free Aceh Movement. Separatist group representatives say the demonstrations are the handiwork of Indonesian security forces, which want to upset the peace process. Military officials in Aceh deny that allegation. Indonesia's top security minister said Monday that the government will continue with the peace plan, and if the situation does not improve the government reserves the right to take military action against the rebels.