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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July, 2005, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Aceh deal gets cautious welcome
The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) chief negotiator Malik Mahmud (L), Mr. Nurdin Abdul Rahman and Doctor Damien Kingsbury at the Helsinki meeting, 17 July
An adviser to Gam says the deal is a workable compromise
People in the Indonesian province of Aceh have cautiously welcomed the news that the government and Aceh's rebels have agreed to sign a peace accord.

At the end of a meeting in Finland on Sunday, the two sides agreed on a deal to end the 29-year insurgency, which they are set to sign on 15 August.

But the issue of political representation could still derail the process.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the deal required a change in the law.

"I hope that both sides will respect this agreement," one Acehnese woman named Dian told the Associated Press.

"All we want here is to live peacefully and free, to go anywhere we want and be able to express our opinions," she said.

"I'm happy to hear the news of peace," said school teacher Rusmini.

"But it's a normal thing. I've heard this before, so let's see how it goes," she said.

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

Political figures, however, were more enthusiastic.

"It's something that we've wanted for a long period of time," said Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill.

"The fact that the Indonesian government and Gam seem to have been able to reach an agreement, I think, is very exciting for the people of Aceh and Indonesia as a whole."

Bakhtiar Abdullah, a spokesman for Gam, said that he believed a breakthrough had been achieved.

"Today even [the Indonesian President] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ratified the peace agreement. This is a signal of genuine intentions from the Indonesian government of finding a sustainable political solution for the long running conflict in Aceh...

"This is a leap of faith but it is not without risks and we now require the Indonesian government to exercise full authority over the military in order to allow this process to succeed."

A deal was struck by Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) in 2002, but fell apart five months later.

Key issues

There have been various sticking points this time, including a rebel demand for Acehnese independence, and political representation for Gam.

The talks showed signs of progress when the rebels agreed to set aside their demand for full independence, but they still insisted on the right to form their own political party in Aceh.

The government initially rejected that idea and offered instead to allow individual members of Gam to stand as candidates for existing national parties.

It appears that the government has now given in to the rebels' demands, but Mr Kalla warned on Sunday that this would require constitutional change.

"A local party would need a change in the law, that would need the agreement of the Parliament," Mr Kalla said.

"The government will try as hard as it can to create the political and legal situation in support of that."

Under current legislation, every political party in Indonesia must have representation in at least half of the country's 33 provinces, and have its headquarters in Jakarta.

Analysts say that any exception to that rule could lead to demands from other separatist groups elsewhere in Indonesia, which some Indonesian officials - especially military factions - fear could spark further attempts at secession from Jakarta.

While the government seems to have conceded ground over the issue of political participation, it appears to be standing firm on its security demands, says the BBC's correspondent in Jakarta, Rachel Harvey.

Under the deal, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said rebel fighters will be given three months to lay down their weapons, after which Indonesian troops will gradually withdraw from the province.

The process is expected to be overseen by monitors from the European Union and some South-East Asian nations.

An adviser to Gam told the BBC the draft agreement was not ideal, but was a workable compromise.

About 15,000 people have died in the 29-year conflict between the government and Gam rebels.

People of Aceh give their verdict on the peace deal

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