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Indonesia Arrests Aceh Rebel Peace Negotiators

Indonesian authorities in have arrested negotiators from the Free Aceh Movement as they were leaving to attend talks in Tokyo aimed at saving Aceh's peace accord.

Authorities in Aceh's provincial capital say they prevented the negotiators from going to the airport because they did not have permission to travel.

It is unclear whether the group will be allowed to leave in time for an emergency meeting with the government in Tokyo on Saturday. Local police say that depends on how the group responds to questioning, which is still underway. The rebels have threatened to pull out of the talks if the men are not freed.

It is not known who ordered the arrests. But Sidney Jones, an analyst with the Jakarta office of the International Crisis Group, says the government has done itself a disservice by allowing the arrests. "You couldn't have designed a move more calculated to undercut the Tokyo meetings. If the government had any interest at all in portraying itself as playing a statesman-like role, this completely destroys that image," she said.

The Indonesian government and leaders of the Free Aceh Movement agreed on Thursday to meet in Tokyo on Saturday as part of last-ditch efforts to save the peace plan.

The two sides signed a peace accord in December, aimed at ending nearly three decades of separatist war that has killed more than 10,000 people.

But they disagree on the accord's final outcome. The deal outlines the government's offer of increased autonomy for Aceh as an alternative to independence. The government had set Thursday as a deadline for the rebels to accept the deal, or face renewed military action.

The Free Aceh Movement says it retains the right to push for independence.

With that issue still alive, Ms. Jones and other observers are pessimistic that the Tokyo meeting can avert a return to war. "The question may be for Tokyo whether there's any way that that the seeds can be laid for the resumption of negotiations at some time in the future after some period of military action takes place," she said.

Thousands of government troops have been sent to Aceh in anticipation of possible military action.