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Indonesian Police Arrest Rebel Envoys

The five men were on their way to peace talks in Tokyo. An official says they needed permission to leave troubled Aceh province.

May 16, 2003|From Associated Press

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Indonesian police arrested five rebel negotiators in Aceh province today as they were leaving for talks with the government aimed at saving a peace deal, police and witnesses said.

A senior rebel representative said the separatists would pull out of the talks unless the five are released.

"These arrests are wrong," chief negotiator Zaini Abdullah said from Sweden, where several senior members of the Free Aceh Movement live in exile. "We will not negotiate unless the men are released."

Indonesia's government has said the meeting in Tokyo is the final chance to avoid war.

The negotiators were breaking the law by leaving the province, said Col. Surya Dharma, an Aceh police detective. Under the terms of the Dec. 9 peace agreement, rebel representatives must report to the police if they want to leave the province.

Three of the men were also under house arrest after police said last week that they were considering charging them with involvement in recent bombings.

The men were detained outside their hotel in the provincial capital here, witnesses said.

Aceh police spokesman Col. Sayed Husaini declined to say whether the men would be released in time to attend the talks.

"They are being interrogated. We will wait and see the developments," he told RCTI television station.

The government said that in the Tokyo talks the rebels must agree to drop their demands for independence, disarm and accept special autonomy or face a military crackdown.

The meeting is taking place after pressure from Indonesia's donor countries. The government is sending five negotiators, but no ministers will be present.

The peace agreement was hailed as a landmark attempt to end the rebels' 26-year insurgency in the oil- and gas-rich province. It initially stemmed the violence, but in recent months it has been repeatedly violated by both sides.

War has loomed since the rebels ignored a government deadline Monday to meet for talks. Rebel leaders have said they were ready to die and resume the conflict that has killed nearly 12,000 people.

Combatants on both sides have been accused of gun running, extortion, drug dealing and other illegal ventures

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