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Last Updated: Monday, 31 January, 2005, 13:34 GMT
Jakarta rejects Aceh rebels offer
By Tim Johnston
In Jakarta

L-R) Leaders of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), Zaini Abdullah, Malik Mahmud, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, Nurdin Abdul Rahman, Bakhtiar Abdullah, Nur Djuli pose 29 January
The offer follows talks between Jakarta and Gam in Helsinki
Indonesia's government has rejected an offer by Aceh's rebels to put demands for independence on hold in exchange for a referendum on Aceh's future.

Despite the government's rejection, the offer shows an encouraging willingness on the rebels' side to be flexible.

The new offer from the rebels came two days after its exiled leadership and government ministers held their first face-to-face talks in almost two years.

The meeting focused on smoothing the path of aid to Aceh's tsunami victims.

Although the talks achieved no formal agreement, the two sides agreed in principle that they would meet again in the next few weeks to discuss longer-term solutions to the 28-year-old insurgency.
Gas-rich province on the north-western tip of Sumatra
Higher percentage of Muslims than other parts of Indonesia
Gam rebels have fought decades-long separatist campaign
Internationally brokered peace deal made in Dec 2002 but collapsed in May 2003
Year-long military crackdown weakened Gam, but failed to capture senior members

The rejection of the offer by the rebels to put their demands for independence on hold for five to ten years until a referendum is little surprise.

Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has said he is willing to consider any solution that does not involve independence.

Despite the offer's rejection, it does give grounds for hope. It seems to indicate a new flexibility in the position of the rebels who have previously refused to shift from their demand for outright independence.

Few observers believe it will be easy to overcome the differences entrenched by more than a century of bitter conflict, but they say these talks represent the best chance for peace in Aceh for some time.

Talks on Aceh's future end early
29 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Aceh rebel talks 'constructive'
28 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Aceh's Gam separatists
24 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific


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