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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June, 2005, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Indonesia rejects Aceh ceasefire
Weapons displayed by Indonesian military in Jakarta - 8/6/05
Indonesia has called on Gam to surrender its weapons
The Indonesian military has again ruled out a ceasefire in troubled Aceh province, despite recent optimism about on-going peace talks.

Armed forces chief Endriartono Sutarto said he would not end an offensive against Gam separatist rebels ahead of any peace deal.

He added that the military had killed 3,300 rebels since a major offensive began in May 2003.

But a Gam spokesman told the BBC only "a couple of hundred" rebels had died.

Gam, also known as the Free Aceh Movement, has been waging a three decade-long campaign for independence in Aceh.

After last year's tsunami, which killed 165,000 Acehnese, there were hopes that the Jakarta government and Gam could reach an agreement.

They both announced an ceasefire in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, though low-level violence soon resumed.

During the past four months delegates from both sides have been engaged in peace talks in the Finnish capital Helsinki.

When the fourth round of talks ended in May, the mediator - former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari - appeared upbeat about their progress.

He said the two sides had reached "a stage where we can talk the most difficult issues through".

ACEH: ESSENTIAL FACTS
Located on the northern tip of Sumatra island
Population of 4.3m people
Rich fuel resources, including oil and natural gas
Gam rebels have been fighting for an independent state

But according to a BBC correspondent in Indonesia, Tim Johnston, progress now seems to be slowing.

General Sutarto's high-profile news conference on Wednesday seems to be an indication that the government is sticking to its hard line against the rebels, he says.

Ruling out a ceasefire, General Sutarto called for the rebels to abandon their struggle.

"If Gam indeed has an intention not to continue its activity to separate Aceh, they should surrender their weapons," he was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP.

He added that dialogue was only "one of many means" that the government could use to "permanently solve" the situation in Aceh.

General Sutarto claimed that more than 3,300 Gam rebels had been killed over the past two years.

But Gam spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah told the BBC that the military had "exaggerated" the number of dead.

"If the figure is as high as 3,000, it is because most of the dead are Acehnese civilians," he said.

So far, fears that the ongoing insurgency could hold up aid to tsunami victims or pose a threat to international aid workers have not been realised.

But analysts are concerned that if the talks break down, a new offensive by either side could make Aceh a much more dangerous place.

A fifth round of talks between Gam and the government is set to start in Helsinki on 12 July.




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