Indonesia, Aceh rebels agree three-month ceasefire

Indonesian government and Aceh rebel representatives met today in Geneva to sign an agreement that will lead to their first formal cease-fire in 25 years of fighting.

Hassan Wirayuda, Indonesia's permanent U.N. representative in Geneva, and Zaini Abdullah, an Aceh rebel representative based in Sweden, signed the "joint understanding on a humanitarian pause" at an undisclosed location, said a person close to the talks.

The "humanitarian pause" will start June 2, three weeks after the signing, the Indonesian mission to U.N. offices in Geneva said in a statement.

"The first phase of its implementation covers a period of three months and will be regularly reviewed for its renewal," the statement said. It covers "joint efforts both to increase humanitarian relief assistance and to reduce tension and to stop violence."

Friday's signing, at a location kept secret at the request of both sides, followed three rounds of talks between the two sides facilitated by the Geneva-based Henri Dunant Center for Humanitarian Dialogue.

"This joint understanding is an early step of a hundred-step journey in the efforts to find a final solution of the Aceh problem," Wirayuda said in the Indonesian statement.

He said that in the three rounds of dialogue "we have produced the joint understanding which - if it is implemented successfully - could help boost the confidence for the subsequent process."

Two joint committees will be established to implement the agreement, the Indonesian statement said. Each will have a maximum of 10 members. A monitoring team comprising "five persons of high integrity" will oversee their activities.

The committees will be based in Banda Aceh, the Acehnese provincial capital. A "joint forum" consisting of representatives from both sides will be based in Switzerland and regarded as the highest decision-making body.

One of the joint committees will be responsible for humanitarian action, "coordinating effective delivery of humanitarian relief assistance in a way which will ensure greater participation of and benefit to the people of Aceh," the Indonesian statement said.

The second committee will oversee security aspects of the program, "particularly by ensuring the reduction of tension and the cessation of violence."

It will "guarantee the absence of offensive military actions and ensuring the continuing of normal police function."

"With their joint efforts, the room for maneuver of 'the third party' will be curtailed," the statement added.

Abdullah said Thursday that the rebels will abide by such a cease-fire agreement, which "would be very important for the Acehnese because we don't want fighting any more."

But he said they would not drop their ultimate demand for independence for the northwestern province, on the tip of Sumatra island.

In Jakarta, President Abdurrahman Wahid also said he hopes the negotiations produce a cease-fire in Aceh, where 5,000 people have been killed in the last decade, including 345 this year.

"We hope this humanitarian truce would be a breakthrough to achieve peace in Aceh," Wahid said at a news conference. But he also said once again that he will not accept the rebels' demand for independence.

The Aceh rebels, embittered by years of Indonesian military crackdown and perceived economic exploitation, are fighting for independence for their province. They also want a greater share of the profits from their oil-rich region and the right to impose Islamic religious laws on the people.

Wahid, a Muslim cleric and reformist who took office in October, has promised Aceh partial autonomy and a greater share of the oil profits. He has also reduced the number of soldiers in the government's counterinsurgency.

The president also began an unprecedented human rights tribunal in Aceh, which is trying Indonesian soldiers on murder charges. On Tuesday, 13 soldiers admitted executing civilians, but testified that they were only following the orders of their military commander.

Many of Aceh's 4.3 million population know people who have died or disappeared during the separatist insurgency, and many civilians were praying at mosques and schools on Friday for success at the talks.

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