Four Aceh rebel leaders released

JAKARTA: Four top Aceh rebel leaders accused of involvement in a series of bombings across Indonesia were released yesterday, as international negotiators made a last-ditch effort to save a peace pact in the restive province. 

Police Lt Col Sayed Hoesainy said the four leaders of the Free Aceh Movement who were arrested on Friday as they were attempting to leave the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, could still be charged under a new anti-terrorism law. 

Lt Col Sayed did not detail the allegations but police have accused the rebels of being responsible for two bombings in Medan in North Sumatra, one outside a UN building in Jakarta and a fourth at the country's main airport. Eleven people were injured in the blasts. 

“They were released because they are part of the council negotiating the peace plan in Aceh,” Lt Col Sayed said. “But the four are still suspects, and they must report to the police.” 

Meanwhile, peace negotiators were meeting separately with both sides ahead of the government's deadline today for the rebels to put down their weapons and accept autonomy instead of independence, amid fears the two sides could resume hostilities. 

The five-month-old pact to end the 26-year civil war – which has killed nearly 12,000 people on the northern tip of Sumatra island, about 1,770km northwest of Jakarta – has appeared to unravel in recent days. 

“We're still talking with the government and seeing what types of last-minute achievements can be made,'' David Gorman, representative in Aceh of the Geneva-based Henry Dunant Centre which brokered the Dec 9 peace agreement. 

“We're doing whatever we can to avoid renewed fighting. People here are generally very troubled and concerned. Both sides realise how important it is that we try and at least see if it is possible to resolve the differences,'' he said. 

Rebels leaders have expressed a willingness to embrace autonomy but are still refusing to put their weapons down before Indonesia pulls its troops back to defensive positions, negotiators said.  

The peace agreement calls for simultaneous demilitarisation, not for rebels to take the first step as Indonesia has recently insisted. 

In a hopeful sign, Gorman said his staff and 50 Thai and Filipino peace monitors would remain in the province. There were reports on Saturday that the monitors would leave the province. 

“We're all still here. We're waiting and seeing,” Gorman said. “If we're notified by the government that we should leave, then we'll leave. But we're still awaiting the outcome of these efforts.” 

The pact appeared to be unravelling last week, as the government announced it was sending more troops to the province and had readied a presidential decree allowing it to “launch a security operation'' in the province. 

Rebels issued a statement calling on their fighters to return to their bases and for citizens to halt all activities starting today. The rebels have 3,000 to 10,000 troops in the province, while the government has more than 30,000 troops. 

The peace pact was signed with much fanfare, and in its first few months effectively ended the civil war. 

But violence has intensified in the past two months, with both sides accusing the other of violating the agreement. – AP  

  • Another perspective from The Jakarta Post, a partner of Asia News Network. 

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