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Indonesia, Aceh Rebels Move to Shore Up Peace Plan - 2003-04-22


The Indonesian government and separatist rebels in Aceh Province have agreed to hold emergency peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland. The talks are aimed at saving the five-month-old peace plan from collapse.

Indonesia's Chief Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the government has agreed to hold talks in Geneva, Switzerland.

Mr. Yudhoyono said the government wants to hold talks immediately and the suggested date of April 25 is already late. But he said the rebels have agreed to the date and the venue of Geneva.

An official with the Swiss-based Henri Dunant Center, or HDC, which brokered the peace accord, confirmed that Geneva has been chosen as the site of the emergency meeting. But the official said the date of the talks is still to be decided.

The HDC is a non-governmental organization and has deployed scores of international observers across Aceh to help monitor the ceasefire outlined in the December 9 peace accord, which was signed by the government and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement.

The accord is considered by many to be the best chance Aceh has had in years to end its 26-year-old conflict which has claimed thousands of lives.

Indonesian officials and rebel leaders have bickered for days about where to hold the emergency meeting to address disputes in the peace process.

The rebels wanted the meeting in Geneva, which is where the peace deal was signed and which is near the homes of some exiled rebel leaders. The Indonesian government wanted the talks to take place in a more neutral location.

The two sides appear to have a lot to iron out with both sides accusing each other of violations. The rebels had promised to store weapons while the government promised to move soldiers to defensive positions. These are interim measures as the government implements an autonomy plan for the region. But that deal too seems to be a point of contention. The rebels insist they have a right to push for full independence, even under this plan. The government disagrees and has threatened to resume military operations unless the peace accord gets back on track.

In addition, HDC monitors last month were forced to pullout from field office to Aceh's provincial capital because threats of violence against them.

Since the relocation of international monitors, ceasefire violations have soared. At least 30 people have died after a period of relative peace and stability.