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Progress Reported in Indonesia Rebel Talks

Finnish ex-leader acting as mediator says there's been a breakthrough in negotiations in Helsinki between Jakarta officials and Aceh separatists.

April 17, 2005|From Associated Press

HELSINKI, Finland — Indonesian government delegates and rebels have made a "breakthrough" in talks aimed at ending a three-decade insurgency in Aceh province, a Finnish mediator said Saturday, but he ruled out U.N. monitoring of any peace deal.

The Free Aceh Movement, which claims about 5,000 fighters, has been struggling for nearly 30 years for a separate homeland in the oil- and gas-rich region of Indonesia.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari said the two sides vowed to restrain their forces during the negotiations to define the framework for Aceh's local administrative structure and the details of a rebel amnesty.

The talks have centered on limited self-government for the province and integrating the rebel movement into society.

"I would like to describe this as a breakthrough. We are now looking at the nitty-gritty ... [at] difficult issues they need to consult on both sides and come back," Ahtisaari said.

"We have moved to a very substantive discussion on the issues."

The current talks started Tuesday at a mansion outside Helsinki, and the sides will continue discussions in Finland next month, Ahtisaari said.

Ahtisaari would not discuss which regional organizations could be involved in monitoring a peace agreement.

On Friday, Indonesian Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said the two sides had found "a lot of common understanding."

"The intention and goodwill is there. Both parties are looking for a peaceful settlement," he said.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Jakarta would never allow Aceh to separate from the rest of Indonesia, but he said that a government plan to give the region a greater say in running its affairs must be implemented.

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