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ACEH Peace Plan on Verge of Collapse - 2003-05-10

The peace plan between Indonesia and separatist rebels in Aceh Province appeared on the verge of collapse Saturday, with reports that international monitors who brokered the plan may be preparing to pull out, as Indonesian troops move back in.

Officials of the Henry Dunant Center, which brokered the peace agreement between Indonesia and the Aceh rebels, say they cannot yet comment on whether they, or the international peace monitoring teams are pulling out of Aceh.

There were reports Saturday that the monitors - most of them from Thailand and the Philippines, are preparing to leave Aceh, perhaps as early as Sunday. A pullout would be another indication that the peace process, which led to a signed agreement last December, is near collapse. The HDC is a Swiss organization that brokered the December 9 peace accord between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government. The peace plan inched close to possible collapse Friday, when the government detained four rebel negotiators at the airport in Aceh's capital. Police initially said the group was attempting to travel without obtaining permission, which the peace accord dictates they must have before leaving the province.

But later Saturday, a police spokesman said the four were being charged with terrorism-related crimes, including bombings in other parts of the country. No detail were provided. A rebel spokesman was quoted Saturday as saying the arrest shows the government has "no good faith at all toward resuming the dialogue."

The government has meanwhile dispatched several thousand troops to Aceh, and President Megawati Sukarnoputri is expected to sign a special decree giving the military authority to carry out "operations" in the province.

Diplomats in Jakarta were quoted as expressing skepticism that a resumption of hostilities could be avoided, and sources said HDC officials were also pessimistic. The HDC expects to release a statement on the situation in the next two days.

By signing the December agreement, the rebels accepted the government's plan for special autonomy for Aceh, including control over the revenue derived from its natural resources. In return, the government said the rebels had to drop their demand for independence. But the rebels say special autonomy is only a step on the way to breaking free from Indonesia, something Jakarta adamantly opposes. Attempts to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table have so far failed. Last week, the government set May 12.