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Indonesia Plans Crackdown on Aceh Separatists Unless Peace Talks Resume Soon

The Indonesian government has maintained a tough stance against separatist rebels in Aceh Province by approving a plan that could include a crackdown on separatists if peace talks do not resume soon. Susilo Bambgang Yudhoyono, the security minister, says President Megawati Sukarnoputri has given the green light to a four-pronged plan for Aceh province. Mr. Yudhoyono says the preparations can now start for an operation consisting of humanitarian efforts, law enforcement, efforts to improve local government, and security operations. Mr. Yudhoyono did not provide any details of the plan, and did not specify what he meant by the term "security operations." But Indonesian military officials have previously threatened to launch a renewed offensive in Aceh if the Free Aceh Movement refuses to return to the negotiating table. A peace agreement for Aceh, which was negotiated by international mediators and signed in December, has been on the brink of collapse for weeks. It called for an end to fighting, demilitarization by both sides and eventual elections for a local legislature. Under the accord, the province would be one of the few in Indonesia to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, a plan formulated by the government as an alternative to the full independence sought by the rebels. But the rebels say they retain the right to break away from Indonesia, a position Mr. Yudhoyono says must be dropped if the peace plan is to be saved. Mr. Yudhoyono says if the rebels decide to resolve the Aceh problem within the framework of the unitary state of Indonesia, the government will give them the opportunity to do so. But he says the new, four-pronged plan will continue until the government sees progress on the rebel side. Last week the government gave Free Aceh Movement leaders a two-week deadline to return to the negotiating table or face a possible crackdown. Mr. Yudhoyono made the threat several days after the government withdrew from an emergency meeting in Switzerland intended to save the peace accord. The rebels have also demanded a gesture from the other side. They say the government has to start pulling its troops into defensive positions, as outlined in the peace agreement, before new talks can begin.