Aceh Rebels to Return to Negotiating Table

Separatist Rebels, or GAM as they are known, from Indonesia's Aceh province said they are willing to meet with Indonesian Government officials for peace talks in Japan. The announcement comes less than 12 hours after Indonesia, under pressure from key foreign donors, gave the rebels another two days to resume talks to avert an all-out military assault in the province on the northern tip of Sumatra Island. "Yes, we have decided that we will continue dialogue on May 17 in Tokyo," rebel spokesman Sofyan Daud said yesterday.

In the provincial capital Banda Aceh rebel negotiator Sofyan Ibrahim Tiba said the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) was prepared to go to the meeting but there could be some technical or other problems. "GAM and the Henry Dunant Centre have already agreed on the 17th so now it depends on the Government," Tiba said.

He did not say if GAM had agreed to meet conditions laid out in the December peace agreement arranged by the Geneva-based Henry Dunant Centre to end a long conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.

A Security Ministry official, Sudi Silalahi, said Indonesia always been open to the possibility of a peaceful solution. But he said preparations for launching one of the biggest military offensives since the 1975 invasion of East Timor would remain on track.

Foreign donors stepped up pressure for the resumption of talks. Japan, the United States, the European Union and the World Bank said: "We strongly hope the two sides at that meeting reach a consensus to revive COHA [Cessation of Hostilities Agreement] and return Aceh to a state of peace based on special autonomy."