Helsinki- The first round of talks between the Indonesian government and Aceh separatists after a 20-month hiatus ended on Jan 29without any concrete results except for an agreement to meet again soon.
The absence of a breakthrough has dampened hopes thatthe massive suffering caused by the Dec 26 tsunami in Aceh would galvanise the two sides into pursuing peace more aggressively than they had ever attempted in the past 30 years.
The meeting, which began on Jan 28in Helsinki, Finland, and ended a day earlier, was confined to discussions pn coordinating aid tothe devastated province.Tough political issues, including a formal ceasefire, were not discussed, a source from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) told Reuters.
Delegations from both sides said the next meeting - likely to take place inHelsinkiagain on Feb 21 -would deal with their major differences.
"We have an in-principle agreement to meet again in the near future to discuss a comprehensive peace settlement under the umbrella of self-autonomy," Indonesian State Minister of Communications and Information Sofyan Djalil said.
GAM political official Mohammed Nur Djuli Mohammed acknowledged that the two sides had come up with their own concepts of dialogue during the meeting.
The GAM delegation insisted on a formal implementation of a ceasefire to facilitate humanitarian relief operation in Aceh.He said the Indonesian government delegation had made several offers to end the conflict, including amnesty for GAM members, the actual implementation of the special autonomy law for Aceh and also an economic compensation package.
"For sure, it would be improper for us to drop the offers. So we responded by saying that we would study the offers first. But, again, it was not an agreement," said Mr Mohammed Nur.
While the absence of any concrete results have disappointed many, some observers feel that the fact that both sides have agreed to meet again is a good sign.
Prominent Acehnese academic Hasballah M. Saad said: "This is positive progress and must be appreciated by both sides."
Political analyst Salim Said said the Indonesian military, the TNI, needs to restrain itselffrom launching further offensive against GAM. Skirmishes between the TNI and Aceh rebels have continued despite an informal truce in place since the tragedy.
On Jan 29, the TNI -which has long treated the largely Muslim province as its on fiefdom and is known to be unenthusiastic about the peace talks - said that four rebels hadbeen killed in an Aceh village.
Mr Salim said: "Continuing offensives against GAM must be put to a halt so that they will not have an excuse to renege on their pledge in the future. Such an offensive is also unnecessary, as GAM is currently under tremendous pressure from the international community to not hamper the relief efforts."
*Govt, GAM agree on more talks (The Jakarta Post, Jan 31)
* Hopes for Aceh peace dampened (The Straits Times, Jan 31)