Indonesian VP sees end to Aceh problem

Updated On: Feb 25, 2005

Jakarta -The second round of peace talks between the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) ended in Helsinki with one agreement: To hold a third meeting in April. But the lack of breakthrough did not prevent Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who had been credited with getting GAM back to the negotiating table, from predicting that the Aceh problem could be solved by June or July.

The issue of special autonomy for Aceh was the focus of the three-day Helsinki meeting, which ended on Feb 23. While Indonesian officials used the term "special autonomy", GAM representatives preferred to talk about "self-government" in Aceh.

"This is the first time GAM didn't mention independence," said Indonesian Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil.

He said the talks had focused on Indonesia's proposals concerning "local authority, special autonomy, amnesty and other arrangements to integrate GAM people into the community" as well as "about security arrangements and a time table", AFP quoted him as saying.

Mr Sofyan acknowledged that differences still surround the positions of the two parties. "But at least, the dialogue has entered into the substance of the problem."

According to Mr Malik Mahmud, head of Aceh's self-proclaimed government, GAM did not completely reject the idea of dropping its independence claims.

"This is something that, yes, we have to consider it," he was quoted of saying.

Mr Martti Ahtisaari, chairman of the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), which served as a facilitator, said the next meeting will be held in Helsinki from April 12 to 17.

Despite the lack of concrete progress, Vice-President Kalla said he was optimistic that the 30-year-old Aceh problem could be solved soon.

"I am confident that with everyone's cooperation, the whole Aceh problem could be solved around June or July," he told reporters in the Indonesian capital on Feb 24.

"Progress, even though it is not 100 per cent,has been made from the two talks in Helsinki.We may need two or three more informal meetings to achieve a comprehensive solution," he said.

"The issue of independence is no longer a probolem - the issue is now of greater autonmy. That is what we will discuss," Mr Kalla said.

The Indonesian Vice-President is said to have been tasked by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to pursue peace talks in Aceh. Mr Kalla reportedly employed a series of middlemen to get GAM leaders to agree to attend the first round of talks in late January.

* RI-GAM second round dialogue winds up with agreement to meet in April (Antara, Feb 24)

* VP: Aceh problem will end in June or July (Kompas, Feb 24)