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Indonesia Peace Process May be Back on Track - 2003-04-15

There are signs that the peace process in Indonesia's northern Aceh province may get back on track with the Indonesian government and separatist rebels agreeing to meet to discuss their differences. But Indonesian government officials in Jakarta are also talking about the possibility of renewed military action in the province.

International peace monitors in Aceh province say they are working out arrangements for a meeting between the Indonesian government and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement - called "GAM".

"The Indonesian government was the party that initiated the joint council and GAM has subsequently agreed to join the joint council meeting," says Steve Daly, a spokesman for the Henri Dunant Center (HDC), the Swiss organization that brokered the peace plan. "But beyond that, we're trying to work out the details but unfortunately they haven't been determined yet."

The peace process appeared to be near collapse last week when violence against international observers forced the HDC to move its monitors to Aceh's provincial capital.

The protesters charge that the monitors did not investigate alleged ceasefire violations by the rebels. Officials from GAM however, say the Indonesian military orchestrated the demonstrations. That charge has been denied.

Ceasefire violations also have risen - with at least nine people dying in clashes since the monitors were withdrawn. It is the worst violence since the peace accord was signed.

GAM and the Indonesian government signed the accord in December. Both sides agreed to work with international monitors observing the ceasefire, and to disarm. The accord is seen by many observers as the best chance of ending two decades of fighting in Aceh.

But the two sides have a different interpretation of the peace plan's ultimate goal. The government says that by signing the agreement, the rebels have agreed to stop their independence struggle. The rebels maintain they still have the right to campaign for independence. That is what has angered the Indonesian government. Senior Indonesian officials have threatened to launch a military offensive against the rebels, because of what they say is GAM's failure to stick to the agreement.

Mr. Daly from the HDC says it is too soon to tell whether the peace plan will fail. "I don't think anybody ever thought this was going to be an easy task," he says. "These two parties have been fighting this conflict to one degree or another for an awfully long time. And trying to bridge trust between the two sides is a challenge."

Mr. Daly says the HDC is also working with authorities in Aceh to find a way to assure the security of its monitors.