Indonesia: peace accord

Developments in Aceh have been "very encouraging" since last month's peace accord, but political resistance to the deal could increase if rebels fail to begin disarming later this month, according to the Dutch diplomat overseeing the accord.

Pieter Feith said the separatists and the government hoped to hold a ceremony marking the fulfillment of their commitments in the deal on the first anniversary of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 130,000 people in the province.

"It is the best way to honor the dead," he said in an interview at the monitoring mission's headquarters, a large two-story house in a residential district of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

Feith's remarks will add to hopes that the deal signed in Finland last month will finally bring an end to 29-years of fighting on the northernmost tip of Sumatra Island that has killed at least 15,000 people.

A 2003 peace deal in the province broke down quickly amid violations on both sides.

Feith said this time around both sides were much more committed to the deal, which was made possible after the rebels gave up their long-held demand for independence in exchange for political representation in the province.

"The parties ... have repeatedly assured me that they are willing to make this a success," he said. "It is very encouraging and getting better everyday. We have a good GAM delegation and they seem to hit it off nicely with their Indonesian counterparts," he said, referring to the rebels by their Indonesian acronym.

Aceh had highest death toll in the 11 countries affected by the tsunami. But the joint suffering endured by its 4.3 million people was a factor in bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table.

Last week, the government fulfilled its first commitment under the deal by releasing some 1,400 rebels held in jails across the country.

By the middle of this month, the rebels will hand over the first batch of 210 weapons at four secure locations of their choosing. The accord stipulates they are to surrender their remaining 630 arms before the year's end.

The military will reciprocate by simultaneously pulling out some 6,000 men. Under the terms of the deal, 20,000 more will withdraw by the end of the year. Another 25,000 will remain.

The deal has so far ended the violence in the province, but it has angered some nationalist politicians and military officers, who fear it gives too much to the insurgents.

The involvement of the European Union and Southeast Asian monitors, who will number 230 by the middle of the month, has also attracted criticism in Jakarta, where memories of East Timor's succession from Indonesia in 1999 are still strong.

Feith said that government ministers were "expending a lot of energy" trying to quiet the critics, who have so far failed to turn public opinion against the deal, either in Aceh or elsewhere in the country.

But he said that "ill-conceived statements, mistakes or lack of results could easily turn the atmosphere around. Once we have passed the first hurdle and seen 210 weapons coming in that could ease the situation."

Ending the war in Aceh will make the massive task of reconstructing the province after the tsunami much easier. The blueprint could also be used to end another simmering separatist conflict in Papua, in the far east of the sprawling archipelago.

Feith, who helped broker a cease-fire in southern Serbia in 2001, said ensuring that the process kept moving was essential, AP reported.

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