Monday, January 31, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ Fruitless but Hopeful Peace Talks

Nancy's comment: The Jan. 28-29 talks between GOI (Government of Indonesia) and GAM (Free Aceh Movement) failed to produce a formal ceasefire. The GOI announced that its military offensive will continue. Talks are planned for late February, but there is doubt of real commitment to a peaceful resolution. Also, aid agencies say they are not targetted in the fighting - which means that GOI's and military's "security" measures (escorts and permission) are unnecessary. Interestingly, they do note that fighting should not delay aid delivery, although this has been the case in the past. The fact that over 200 have been killed since Dec. 26 - many allegedly civilians - has caused for concern itself. See below for more details.

Robert's comment:
  1. The GAM have backed away from a demand for independence and have accepted to defer their struggle to allow relief & reconstruction to take place. This is a significant transformation akin to their acceptance of the call for a referendum (initiated by the Acehnese student movement in 1999) as opposed to their die-hard call for independence that had preceded this.

  2. The Indonesian military has issued different signals about its commitments to peace: the central authority in Jakarta have called on local troops to cease-fire; the local TNI commanders/troops have ignored them (the recent declaration by local TNI of having killed 200 'GAM' is testimony to this);

  3. The Indonesian military has issued contradictory statements regarding its commitment to humanitarian relief/operations: first claiming to commit two-thirds of troops to such operations, then 4 battalions which would be 10% of troops. The TNI had made public the actual percentage of troops committed to humanitarian relief and it was actually quite low. Plus all the problems we're familiar with regarding its incompetence (see inter-agency report by WHO issued last week), corruption (see articles detailing diversion, number-fudging on IDP counts), and brutality (see face of Farid, anti-corruption crusader recently beaten by TNI officer and shown on TV; articles on Acehnese urging that foreign militaries stay because of fear of TNI return to true form).
Let's continue pressing for the ceasefire, longer peace process, and permanent peace for Acehnese.


Source: Reuters AlertNet
Date: 29 Jan 2005

Key facts on Aceh conflict, peace talks

HELSINKI, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) ended talks in Finland on Saturday with an agreement to meet again soon to seek a lasting peace deal.

Following is background to the conflict:

  • Aceh is located on the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Banda Aceh is the capital. About 98 percent of the four million population is Muslim.

  • Aceh bore the brunt of the Dec. 26 tsunami. An estimated 230,000 of its inhabitants were killed or are missing.

  • GAM -- Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, Free Aceh Movement in English -- has fought for independence from Indonesia since 1976. About 12,000 people, mostly civilians, are estimated to have been killed in the conflict.

  • GAM considers Prince Hasan di Tiro the rightful head of state and Malik Mahmud its prime minister. Most of the group's leadership has lived in exile in Sweden for decades.

  • Negotiations between Jakarta and GAM began in 2000. In late 2002 Indonesia offered a deal giving the Acehnese more say over their affairs, but ruled out an independent Acehnese state.

  • Talks in Tokyo collapsed in May 2003 when each side complained of the other's interpretation of a December 2002 truce. The next day, the Indonesian military launched an offensive to crush GAM and imposed martial law, later substituted by a state of civil emergency.

  • In 2004 Amnesty International said the military offensive was ruining the Acehnese people's lives and New York-based Human Rights Watch said Indonesian soldiers routinely abused detainees suspected of links to the rebels.

  • Indonesia's military says it has killed more than 200 GAM fighters since the Dec. 26 tsunami.

  • In Jan. 28-29 talks in Helsinki, the two sides discussed the humanitarian crisis in Aceh and a ceasefire to allow relief work to continue, and agreed to meet again soon. Finnish mediators said Jakarta's offer of limited autonomy formed the basis of the talks.

  • Aceh is a major contributor to Indonesia's oil and natural gas output. U.S. energy giant Exxon Mobil Corp operates there.

  • Aceh was one of the first parts of Indonesia to adopt Islam and one of the last to come under Dutch colonial rule.


Source: Channel News Asia
Date: 30 Jan 2005

Four rebels killed in Indonesia's Aceh as peace talks proceed in Finland

Indonesia's military said it had shot dead four separatist rebels in tsunami-ravaged Aceh province while government and rebel leaders were engaged inceasefire talks in Finland.

Military spokesman Edi Sulistiadie said army infantry shot dead the four FreeAceh Movement guerrillas during a skirmish Saturday in the village of Tanjong Punti in the east of the region.

The incident occurred as rebel leaders and government officials were engaged in talks in Finland aimed reconciling both sides in the three-decade struggle in Aceh to ensure it did not hamper efforts to aid tsunami survivors.

No formal ceasefire deal was reached by the end of the dialogue on Saturday, although it was agreed that further talks would take place, maintaining hopes that some kind of agreement may be reached.

But fears that diplomatic accords will have little effect on the fractious rebels and Indonesia's unbridled military seemed to be borne out by the latest clash, which came despite pledges on both sides to avoid conflict.

The skirmish broke out after soldiers spotted the four rebels trying to "disturb" residents in the village, Sulistiadie said, adding that one of them was Amin Syarif, a 40-year-old rebel commander.

Asked why the shooting had occurred despite the ongoing talks in Finland, Sulistiadie said: "The current position of the Indonesian armed forces is defensive-active. They fired at us first, so why shouldn't we fire back?"

However rebel sources said the four had been in the village to meet relatives because they assumed they would not be captured by authorities while ceasefire talks were ongoing.

Upon their arrival, armed Indonesian soldiers immediately surrounded their homes. Fighting then broke out.

Sulistiadie also accused the rebels of shooting dead a resident and critically wounding another in the northern Aceh district of Bireuen after they refused to donate money for the separatists' cause.

The Free Aceh Movement launched its struggle for independence in 1976, accusing Jakarta of plundering the north Sumatran province's valuable resources.

Repeated efforts to secure a lasting peace in the region collapsed in May 2003, prompting the government to impose martial law and unleash a major military offensive in which thousands have died.

Following the December 26 tsunami which killed up to 230,000 in and around Aceh, both the rebels and the government have returned to the negotiating table, agreeing to focus on the relief effort.

But observers say even if the two sides can find common ground, Jakarta faces a challenge reigning in its powerful military, which is reluctant to surrender its grip on Aceh, while the Sweden-based rebel leadership has little influence over rebel commanders in remote jungle bases.

Nevertheless former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, whose Crisis Management Initiative foundation is mediating the talks near Helsinki, said he was upbeat about the possibility of progress.

"I will be very disappointed if I do not succeed in this effort," he said on Saturday. "I will be working with the parties to try to get an agreement (on this), it will take some time, but I don't expect it to take months."

Ahtisaari said that though the two-day talks had failed to agree on a formal ceasefire, both sides said they would "try to refrain from hostilities" while aid operations in Aceh continued. (AFP)


Source: Channel News Asia
Date: 30 Jan 2005

Indonesia says clearer agenda needed for peace in Aceh as fighting continues

HELSINKI: Indonesia said Sunday a clearer agenda was needed for dialogue with separatist rebels after talks in Finland failed to yield a formal truce, even as its troops killed four guerrillas in a new skirmish in tsunami-hit Aceh.

An Indonesian ministerial delegation met rebels, who are fighting for the independence of the north Sumtran province, for two days of talks near Helsinki aimed at securing a ceasefire to safeguard aid for disaster survivors.

But although mediators said they had lined up further discussions and were optimistic that an end to three decades of fighting was a possibility, there was no hoped-for formal ceasefire.

Underscoring the fragile situation on the ground in Aceh, where up to 230,000 people were killed by the December 26 disaster, government troops killed four rebels in a clash that took place while the talks were in progress.

The leader of the Indonesian delegation, senior security minister Widodo Adi Sucipto said while Jakarta had "never closed the doors for dialogue" but there would be no progress unless both sides agreed on a framework.

"Should there be more dialogue, the future talks have to provide a clear prospect for a solution," he told Indonesia's SCTV television station, speaking in Helsinki.

"Therefore there has to be an agenda and substance that must be jointly agreed before we move on to the factual talks," he added.

Indonesia has rejected point blank rebel demands for independence, offering special autonomy and amnesties in its stead. The rebels have yet to publicly respond to the offer.

Even if a deal can be reached, it could be difficult to persuade Indonesia's wilful military to abandon is fight in Aceh, while the fractious rebels may ignore directives from their leaders exiled in Sweden.

Both sides have already pledged to focus on humanitarian efforts in Aceh, where an enormous international relief operation is underway to help hundreds of thousands of tsunami victims.

But Indonesia's military said Sunday it had shot four rebels a day earlier in the east of the province, claiming they were returning fire on rebels who had arrived in a village to "disturb" residents.

Rebel sources said those killed had merely been visiting relatives and had been tempted out of their jungle hideouts believing that the ongoing ceasefire talks meant that they would be safe from government troops.

In Helsinki, mediators of the talks said the first contact between the two sides for 20 months had made progress, an a solution to the three-decade independence struggle was a possibility.

"I will be very disappointed if I do not succeed in this effort," said former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, adding he had invited the two sides back for more discussions.

"I will be working with the parties to try to get an agreement (on this), it will take some time, but I don't expect it to take months.

"The aim must be in this process to find a comprehensive settlement on the basis on the special autonomy, there is no other offer at the table," Ahtisaari said.

The rebel Free Aceh Movement began its campaign for independence in 1976, accusing Jakarta of plundering resources in the province, which was a separate state in pre-colonial times. More than 12,000 people have died in the struggle. (AFP)


Source: Joyo Indonesia News
Date: 30 Jan 2005

Fighting, Futile Cease-Fire Talks Dim Aceh Peace Hopes

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Jan. 30 (AP) -- Fresh fighting in Indonesia's Aceh province and a premature end to cease-fire talks between the government and rebels dampened hopes of peace in the tsunami-hit region, but aid workers said Sunday they weren't being targeted and were optimistic the massive relief effort wouldn't be disrupted.

More bodies were still being discovered in Aceh five weeks after the disaster and the government said it had buried nearly 5,000 more victims in the past week, upping the death toll across 11 countries to between 150,704 and 178,115. Additionally, the number of missing ranges from 26,404 to 142,132 - with most presumed dead.

The variation in the tolls reflects differing figures being released by separate government agencies in both Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the hardest-hit countries in the Dec. 26 disaster.

The clash in Aceh occurred Saturday when soldiers shot and killed a guerrilla commander and three of his fighters in a gun battle in the east of the province, Indonesian military spokesman Lt. Col. Eddyana Sulistiadie said. Independent confirmation was not immediately available.

But the U.N. said it didn't expect the fighting to affect relief work.

"We don't expect to be a target," said Joel Boutroue, head of the U.N. relief efforts in Aceh. "I don't believe that this will hamper our access to populations made vulnerable by the tsunami."

Meanwhile, in other developments:

  • Austria announced it would send a team of experts to Sri Lanka to help rebuild its rail system, which was badly damaged by the waves. Among the dead in Sri Lanka were about 800 people who were killed when the tsunami tore through their train as it traveled along the coastline.

  • Thailand is to establish a tsunami museum to chronicle the plight of survivors and changes to the environment in areas devastated by the waves. Photographs, video footage, satellite images and interviews with survivors have already been collected, the Thai News Agency said.

  • A meeting in Thailand of delegates from 47 nations approved a plan Saturday to set up a tsunami warning network for southern Asia. Delegates had originally planned for a centralized system, but failed to agree on where to base a hub that would collect seismic and oceanographic data, analyze it and issue alerts to coastal areas in danger. Experts say even a few minutes' warning could have saved many of the lives lost.

The Aceh peace talks were held near Helsinki, Finland, on Friday and Saturday. They ended a day early without a formal truce being reached, said former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who convened the meeting.

There was no word on why they ended prematurely. Indonesian Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil described the talks as "quite hopeful." Ahtisaari said neither party had yet accepted an invitation to a second round of meetings.

Both the insurgents, who have been fighting for an independent homeland in Aceh since 1976, and government forces declared an informal cease-fire after the tsunami. But the promises appear to have been ignored. The military says it has killed more than 200 alleged rebels since the disaster, raising concerns about the security of the relief operations in Aceh.

Aid groups said the early cutoff of the peace negotiations would not hamper their work.

"We don't have any comment on political negotiations but we will continue with our aid effort for as long as it is needed," World Food Program spokeswoman Heather Hill said.


Source: Yahoo! News - Singapore
Date: 30 Jan 2005

Indonesia, Aceh rebels expected to meet again for peace talks

The Indonesian government and Aceh separatists are expected to meet again in Helsinki to continue peace talks, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, mediator of the negotiations, said after a first round of discussions wound up.

"I have extended an invitation to the parties for a second meeting in Helsinki," Ahtisaari told a news conference here.

The former career diplomat said he expected positive replies from the warring parties to continue with a new round of talks as soon as they had consulted with their respective camps.
"I will be very disappointed if I do not succeed in this effort," he noted.

"I will be working with the parties to try to get an agreement (on this), it will take some time, but I don't expect it to take months."

The talks, triggered by an agreed need to provide security guarantees for massive ongoing aid operations in the tsunami-shattered province, have mostly focused on a permanent resolution of the 29-year-long insurgency.

While the rebels seek independence from Jakarta for Aceh, a state in its own right in pre-colonial times, the Indonesian government is only willing to give the province a special autonomous status.

"The aim must be in this process to find a comprehensive settlement on the basis on the special autonomy, there is no other offer at the table," Ahtisaari said.

"I am impressed that there is a desire nevertheless, even if it doesn't meet the aspirations of GAM, that they have decided to probe whether something workable within that concept can be achieved."

As nearly a quarter of a million people died from the unprecedented natural catastrophe on December 26, the government and rebels have been under pressure from the international community to bring a halt to their drawn-out conflict.

Ahtisaari said he appealed to both sides to facilitate the flow of humanitarian assistance.
On Friday, the two parties met face-to-face for the first time since the government in May 2003 declared martial law and launched a major military offensive in the province after a ceasefire between them broke down.

Through Friday and Saturday, the Indonesian government ministers had direct bilateral talks with the GAM leadership, without Ahtisaari present, he said.

Even though they failed to agree on a formal ceasefire, both sides said they would "try to refrain from hostilities" while aid operations in Aceh continue, Ahtisaari said, adding however that there was a need to formalize the uneasy truce.

"You can't keep that sort of situation lasting forever," Ahtisaari said.

"You have to use this time that we have at the moment, to seriously consider whether we can achieve through this process a comprehensive settlement on the basis of what we have in our hands. And that's what this process is all about."

The two-day talks that began Friday were the first time in 20 months that the government and the GAM rebel leaders came together and it was always unlikely that far-reaching accords could be reached.

"I don't think this has ever happened in this sort of form and it would not be realistic to assume that the parties will start loving each other from the first moment they meet," Ahtisaari said.

The former Finnish president said that there currently was a "window of opportunity" to reach a settlement to the conflict that has killed nearly 12,000 people since 1976, a chance the two sides should seize.

"I don't think we have an enormous amount of time either, the train is moving, you can't stop the political process, or humanitarian and reconstruction process," he stressed.
The negotiations took place under a veil of secrecy at a government-owned estate just outside Helsinki.

Ahtisaari said that he had earlier briefed UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who had encouraged him to go on with the effort.

The meeting came to take place in Finland after representatives of his Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) foundation sounded out, with the warring parties in the final months of last year, the possibilities for peace negotiations, which were eventually triggered by the December 26 tsunami disaster.

The two parties were due to leave Helsinki later Saturday, a CMI spokeswoman said.


Source: Joyo Indonesia News
Date: 31 Jan 2005

Aceh Rebels Willing To Wait For Independence Vote

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- Acehnese rebels said Monday they are willing to put their demand for secession on hold if Indonesia accepts a "face-saving" formula that would allow the tsunami-hit province to hold an independence referendum within five to 10 years.

The two sides held talks over the weekend in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, to consider a possible cease-fire and to reopen a peace process that was brutally broken in May 2003 by the Indonesian military. Although the meeting ended inconclusively, both sides have said negotiations will resume in February.

Teungku Adam, a rebel commander in Aceh who said he had been in touch with rebel negotiators in Scandinavia, said the Indonesian side wanted them to accept an autonomy package before agreeing to a formal cease-fire.

Adam said that when talks resume on Feb. 21, the Indonesian delegation will present the details of the autonomy package for the province of 4.1 million people on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

"We have said we will sit and listen, but that does not mean we will accept," he said. "How can they force us to accept when they are losing the war?"

"We will give them a face-saving deal - both sides will have to agree on a referendum within five or 10 years, and that will give the Indonesians an opportunity to win hearts and minds if they can do," Adam told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Although Free Aceh Movement separatists have in the past said they wanted a referendum on self-determination for Aceh, they never set a time frame for the plebiscite until now. They have always rejected Jakarta's plan for self-government, also known as "special autonomy."

Tens of thousands of people have died in the fighting that broke out in 1976. At least 15,000 have perished in the last decade.

in Jakarta, security minister Widodo Adi Sucipto who led the Indonesian delegation at the Helsinki talks, said the government remained committed to the peace process but would continue with military operations until a permanent solution is agreed on.

"The differences between the two sides are related to the special autonomy which constitutes the main platform for the Indonesian government in settling the conflict," he told reporters.

"The government wants a comprehensive and permanent solution," Widodo said.

And in a related development, a well-known human rights group in the province urged the United Nations to get involved in the peace talks saying the two sides "were not serious" about finding a peaceful settlement.

The non-governmental Information Center for a Referendum in Aceh also criticized Jakarta and the rebel Free Aceh Movement for not putting the interests of the people of the devastated region on the northern tip of Sumatra island ahead of "their narrow political interests."

"Hopefully, in their next meeting... a positive outcome will be reached based on the need for democracy and peace in Aceh," the group said. "The United Nations must use its influence to pressure both parties to... make peace."

The group advocates an internationally supervised referendum on self-determination for the region. Jakarta has refused this, fearing a repeat of the secession of East Timor, which broke away in 1999 after voting for independence in a U.N.-organized plebiscite.


Source: Fairfax Digital
Date: 31 Jan 2005

Aceh rebels soften stance
By Matthew Moore in Jakarta

The mediator negotiating peace talks between warring sides in Indonesia's tsunami-devastated Aceh province said the separatists have set aside their demands for independence to allow talks to continue.

Addressing a press conference in Helsinki after two days of negotiations, the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, said he had invited both the Indonesian Government and representatives of the Free Aceh Movement, GAM, to resume talks soon, and would be "very disappointed" if they did not agree.

While GAM has for 30 years insisted it will accept nothing less than full independence from Indonesia, Mr Ahtisaari said the separatists had agreed to resume talks within the framework of "special autonomy" - a longstanding Indonesian Government offer that GAM in the past has always rejected.

"The aim must be in this process to find a comprehensive settlement on the basis of the special autonomy, there is no other offer at the table," Mr Ahtisaari said.

"I am impressed that there is a desire nevertheless, even if it doesn't meet the aspirations of GAM, that they have decided to probe whether something workable within that concept can be achieved."

Although it is early in this new peace process, the apparent agreement by GAM to discuss the idea of special autonomy is one sign that some progress might be possible in the first talks since a ceasefire collapsed in May 2003 and martial law was declared.

Another move welcomed by observers was the fact the Indonesian Government met members of the GAM's government-in-exile without any mediator present.

Mr Ahtisaari, the chairman of a Finnish conflict resolution group called Crisis Management Initiative, said the talks began by reviewing the humanitarian situation before discussing the elements of a peace agreement.


Source: Financial Times
Date: 31 Jan 2005

Rebels ease stance on sovereignty
By Shawn Donnan in Jakarta

Exiled leaders of the separatist Free Aceh Movement have provisionally dropped demands for full independence for the tsunami-ravaged Indonesian province, raising hopes of a peaceful resolution to the long-running separatist conflict.

Two days of talks between Indonesia and Stockholm-based leaders of the separatist movement, known as GAM, ended in Helsinki this weekend without the announcement of a hoped-for ceasefire. But speaking after the talks, Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president who brought the two sides together, said each had started exploring the possibility of a comprehensive solution in the framework of special autonomy for Aceh.

He said he had invited both sides to meet again in Helsinki.

The Indian Ocean disaster killed more than 220,000 people in Aceh alone, and international pressure has grown to use the tragedy as an impetus for peace.

The rebels' concession was significant, close watchers of past peace efforts said, because it marked the first time GAM had agreed to enter negotiations without requiring full independence for Aceh.

It also meant the talks were aimed at finding an "end solution" for the conflict, they said, rather than another de facto ceasefire.

Bakhtiar Abdullah, a GAM spokesman, said: "We have to come to agreement firstly that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

But he added that the Helsinki talks had set "guidelines" for future discussions talks to be conducted around an Indonesian offer of special autonomy, adding that GAM was ready to accept a solution other than one requiring Aceh's eventual independence.

GAM, Mr Abdullah said, had accepted an invitation to future talks "in principle" that he expected to take place "sometime in the coming month".

Indonesian officials were more cautious. But the head of Jakarta's delegation, chief security minister Widodo Adi Sucipto, yesterday said any future talks needed to include a firmer agenda for progress.

Additional reporting by Rupini Bergstrom in Stockholm


Source: Reuters
Date: 31 Jan 2005

Aceh peace talks could fail without tactics change
By Jerry Norton and Jim Loney

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Talks to end a decades-long conflict in Indonesia's tsunami-stricken Aceh province could be on a fast track to nowhere unless there are changes in positions and negotiating approaches, analysts said on Monday.

Senior Indonesian and separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) officials had said after weekend meetings in Helsinki -- the first such talks between the sides in nearly two years -- they agreed to work towards a lasting peace to help rebuild Aceh, which took the brunt of the Dec. 26 tsunami.

GAM leader Malik Mahmud, in self-exile in Sweden, spoke of "differences that need to be ironed out" but said the two delegations had formed "a close relationship".

Little else that was concrete emerged from the negotiations, however, and political analysts agree that as there appear to be no changes in the two sides' positions on issues of autonomy and independence, how they can break a deadlock is not clear.

"I'm pessimistic in the long term because there are some non-negotiable issues. GAM insists on independence. The government insists Aceh will never be allowed to secede. It's hard to get around that and see how you are going to have a dignified solution," said Ken Conboy, country manager at Risk Management Advisory in Jakarta.

The tsunami disaster left more than 230,000 of Aceh's four million people missing or dead, and devastated major sections of its infrastructure.

The tragedy helped bring about the Helsinki talks with both sides are under pressure from the international community, which is pouring aid into the province, to try to reconcile the differences behind a simmering civil war.

More than 12,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the war and the prospect it will continue raises questions about the safety of aid workers and the incentives for investors and donors to provide the billions needed for reconstruction in the gas-rich province at Indonesia's extreme northwest corner.

The Helsinki meeting would not necessarily do any harm, said Wimar Witoelar, a commentator and former presidential adviser, "but I fail to see how some people living in Stockholm and some government officials without real power in Indonesia can meet in a place like Helsinki and produce anything significant".

"I think the further you leave Aceh for a conference table in Scandinavia, the less probable a solution will come out."

Although the fighters in Aceh pay lip service to their officials halfway around the world, experts say in practice some factions consider the Swedish leadership out of touch with realities on the ground and tend to go their own way.

Similar comments on the importance of negotiating in Aceh itself came from Indonesian parliament member Suripto, a leader of the Prosperous Justice Party, a conservative Muslim party that is a rising political force.

"GAM has many factions and none of them are dominant, especially those that are based abroad. If they achieve an agreement, it would not be implemented by the groups in Aceh."

"We should talk with GAM members who are in the field, those who carry weapons, not the elites who like to talk on TV or radio," said Suripto.

GAM issued a declaration of independence for Aceh at the end of 1976. As military efforts to crush the rebellion intensified in the late 1970s, top GAM leaders left for Sweden, where they hoped both to find refuge and generate international support.

Suripto said he thought both sides had common goals after the tsunami, but it was not clear what the government would be willing to offer the rebels politically.

A preliminary peace deal reached in 2002 fell apart partly over the issue of autonomy.
The government view was that autonomy could not give way to full independence. GAM officials see autonomy as an interim step toward just that.

Proposals for a referendum on independence, meanwhile, run aground on the government's bottom line, since to accept holding such a referendum, even years into the future, would be to accept in principle that an independent Aceh is at least a possibility.

The autonomy Jakarta has offered Aceh is not visibly different from its past positions, which included major concessions toward self-rule, Islamic law, and a bigger piece of the economic pie from the province's resources -- but not independence.

A government offer of amnesty for GAM rebels appears to amount to saying if they yield their weapons they will not be imprisoned, leaving their political demands hanging.

(With additional reporting by Tomi Soetjipto in Banda Aceh and Sinta Satriana in Jakarta)

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