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Indonesia Frees 4 Aceh Separatist Leaders - 2003-05-11

Indonesian authorities have released four Aceh separatist leaders arrested two days ago. The move comes amid growing concern that the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government are close to abandoning their five-month-old peace pact.

An official close to the peace process confirms news reports saying that four senior leaders from the Free Aceh Movement were released.

Indonesian authorities arrested the four Friday at the airport in Aceh's provincial capital, Banda Aceh. Police said they were arrested for failing to seek permission to travel - a requirement under the peace accord with the Indonesian government.

A day later, police said the men would be charged with terrorism-related crimes, for bombings in the city of Medan and Indonesia's capital Jakarta.

For the moment, the legal status of the men remains unclear, and it is not known if they still face charges.

The arrests were the latest twist in efforts to salvage Aceh's fragile five-month-old peace plan. The Indonesian government threatens to renew its military offensive against the separatists if they refuse to return to the negotiating table on the government's terms.

That means the rebels must accept a government plan for increased autonomy in Aceh as an alternative to independence - something the rebels reject.

The two sides signed a peace accord in December in an effort to end more than 25 years of fighting that has claimed thousands of lives. The accord does not include independence as an option in the peace process.

Violence in the province has flared again in the past few weeks. It remains unclear whether international monitors in Aceh will be pulled out of the province, as news reports have suggested. Scores of international monitors were deployed in Aceh to monitor the ceasefire between the government and the rebels.