Aceh peace talks to focus on autonomy

Updated On: Feb 22, 2005

Helsinki - The issue of special autonomy for Aceh may make or break the second round of peace talks between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which began on Feb 21.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo Adi Sucipto, who is leading the Indonesian delegation, said Jakarta is seeking a "permanent and comprehensive" settlement, rather than a temporary solution to the 30-year-old conflict in Aceh.

The first round of talks - facilitated by the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a global mediator - was held in Helsinki in late January but ended with no concrete results. At that time, GAM was only interested in establishing a temporary ceasefire in Aceh to ensure effective humanitarian relief operations in the tsunami-hit province.

Mr Widodo said on Feb 18 that he had received confirmation from the CMI, which is headed by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, that the talks this time round would revolve round special autonomy for Aceh.

The autonomy deal Jakarta has offered includes concessions towards self-rule and Islamic law in the devout Muslim province and a bigger slice of the economic benefits from the province's energy resources.

"We do hope for concrete progress," Mr Widodo said.

However, a GAM delegation member, Mr Noerdin Abdulhamid, said that while the group is ready to talk, GAM willnot accept the special autonomy offer.

"We know that the meeting will begin by discussing the special autonomy for Aceh, but we have no intention of accepting the concept," Mr Noerdin said in Sweden.

He said the GAM delegation, led by shadow prime minister for Aceh, Mr Malik Mahmood, had other points on the agenda, including an offer of a ceasefire.

Some observers believe that GAM leaders want to see details of the autonomy offer before they would commit themselves to anything.

In the past, GAM had insisted that it would accept nothingless than independence. However, following the first round of talks, GAMhad shown signs of flexibility by saying that it was ready to put its demands for independence on hold in exchange for a referendum onAceh's future.

A commentary published in The Straits Times said that the "road to permanent peace may not be easy to travel".

"It will depend on one fundamental: "Can the two sides agree on what the future of Aceh should be?...Does GAM feel weakened enough by the tsunami disaster to accept a final solution that falls short of its dream of an independent Aceh?"

* RI, GAM ready to resume talks, focus on autonomy (The Jakarta Post, Feb 20)

* Post-tsunami GAM and the future of Aceh (The Straits Times, Feb 12)