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US Regrets Breakdown of Aceh Peace Process in Indonesia - 2003-05-20

The United States Monday expressed deep regret over the weekend breakdown of peace talks in Tokyo between Indonesia and rebels from Aceh province. The State Department also called on Indonesian authorities to protect human rights in the new military operations they have launched in Aceh.

The United States had strongly supported efforts to get a peaceful settlement of the Aceh crisis and along with the European Union, Japan and the World Bank it had co-chaired the Tokyo talks which broke down on Sunday.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher made clear the Bush administration's disappointment over the turn of events. "We deeply regret that the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement forfeited a rare opportunity to advance the peace process with the assistance of the international community," he said. "It is our judgement that the possible avenues to a peaceful resolution were not fully explored at the Tokyo conference, and that steps incompatible with a determined approach to negotiations undermined the process."

The talks collapsed after the rebels, who seek independence for the oil-rich province, rejected Jakarta's demands to lay down their weapons and accept regional autonomy.

Only hours after negotiations failed, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed a decree declaring martial law in Aceh, and authorizing the start of a military offensive.

Spokesman Boucher said the United States maintains its support for the territorial integrity of Indonesia and for a peaceful resolution of the Aceh conflict based on "special autonomy."

He said U.S. officials do not see the problem as one that can be settled by military force, and he reiterated an earlier appeal made with the other sponsors of the Tokyo meeting for an early return to the negotiating process.

Mr. Boucher also called for "the most careful observance" of the laws of land warfare in the renewed fighting in the province and the "strict observance" of the human rights of civilian populations.

In a statement, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said it was concerned that the Indonesian martial-law declaration and renewed military campaign sets the stage for "gross" human rights violations in the province.

A spokesman for the group urged the government and rebels to uphold obligations under international law to protect civilians and non-combatants.

Both sides have been accused of committing atrocities in the fighting in Aceh, which began in the 1970's and killed more than ten thousand people.