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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July 2005, 15:13 GMT 16:13 UK
Hopes and fears for Aceh peace deal
By Rachel Harvey
BBC News, Jakarta

The deal struck between the Indonesian government and the separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement at the weekend has been met with a mixture of hope, relief, caution and some nervousness.

Acehnese pupils gather outside their class during their return to their reconstructed school in Aceh Besar, 18 July 2005.
Both sides want to give a fresh start to Aceh's new generation
It is generally agreed that what is now on the table represents the best chance of a durable peace in the province since the conflict began 29 years ago.

But there have been so many false hopes in the past that few in Aceh will be convinced until all the guns in the province fall silent.

The details of the agreement are not being made public until the eight-page document is formally signed on 15 August.

But it seems that all major issues have been covered.

Rebel fighters are required to lay down their arms, possibly over a period of as little as three months. In return, former rebel combatants will be granted amnesty and the majority of Indonesian troops and paramilitary police will gradually be withdrawn.

The process is expected to be monitored by a European Union mission with some participation by representatives from South East Asian nations.

There are reasons to be more optimistic about the prospects of this deal working when compared to previous failed efforts

But precisely how the demobilisation will be choreographed and how many monitors will be deployed is unclear.

Compromise

Both sides say they have also found a form of words they can live with regarding the thorny issue of a future political role for the Free Aceh Movement, better known by its Indonesian acronym, Gam.

Early in the negotiating process, the rebels put aside their demand for full independence, insisting instead on the right to form their own local political party in Aceh.

That was initially rejected by the government, but some form of compromise has clearly now been agreed.

Sources close to the talks suggest that in the first instance the rebels will be allowed to run as individual candidates in local elections due next year.

In addition, the government is believed to have agreed to put a proposal to parliament which would allow the formation of local parties in Aceh.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari arrives for his press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on Sunday 17 July 2005
Talks broker Martti Ahtisaari says he is pleased with the deal

Under current election laws, all political parties must have representation in at least half of all Indonesian provinces. The laws will have to be changed if Gam is to be able to form a local party, and parliamentary approval is by no means guaranteed.

Nationalists have been vocal in their opposition to the recent talks, fearing what they call "an internationalisation" of the conflict.

Others are concerned that if an exception is made for Gam, groups in other conflict areas, such as Papua or the Maluccas, might make similar demands.

The test of any peace deal is in its implementation, and this agreement will have plenty of challenges to overcome.

Hardliners in the military are known to have favoured a continuation of the current military campaign in Aceh rather than any compromise with separatists.

Grounds for optimism

Yet there are reasons to be more optimistic about the prospects of this deal working when compared to previous failed efforts.

Indonesian soldiers stand guard near weapons confiscated from rebel troops in military operations in Aceh, June 8, 2005.
One of the challenges will be decommissioning
Firstly the political context in the aftermath of December's devastating tsunami has changed dramatically.

After a prolonged period first of martial law, and then of emergency rule, Aceh was forced to open its doors to outside help.

The international presence on the ground, and increased diplomatic interest from foreign governments, especially those donating considerable sums to Aceh's reconstruction, shone a much needed spotlight onto a brutal conflict that much of the world had previously largely ignored.

Secondly, earlier attempts to end the conflict had concentrated on securing a truce first, leaving more complex political and security issues to be dealt with later.

This time, the deal appears to be more of a complete package that both sides are being asked to commit to from the outset.

Ultimately the key question will be whether the combatants on both sides can be persuaded that the time for fighting is over.

The goal is for demilitarisation to be complete by 26 December, the first anniversary of the tsunami disaster.

If that can be achieved, it would be perhaps the most appropriate and welcome development to emerge from the wreckage of last year's tragedy.


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