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INDONESIA Some skeptical about peace pact



Published: Sat, August 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Previous agreements have fallen apart, but things are different now, others say.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- Like many people in Indonesia's war-torn Aceh province, Kat Cut is yearning for peace. Members of her family have been kidnapped, imprisoned and left for dead during the decades-long conflict that has claimed nearly 15,000 lives.

Still, she and others have doubts that an agreement being signed Monday by the government and separatist rebels will bring a permanent end to fighting in the tsunami-ravaged province.

Previous deals have collapsed, the most recent two years ago when both sides accused the other of violations. The military kicked out foreign observers, declared martial law, arrested rebel negotiators and mounted an offensive in which thousands died.

There were positive signs, this time, with some Indonesian security forces already packing to leave.

Effects of the tsunami

"I'll be really sad if this agreement is just a game," said Oki Rahmatan Tiba, the 21-year-old son of one of the jailed negotiators, Sofyan Tiba, who drowned when the Dec. 26 tsunami crashed into Banda Aceh, sweeping away everything in its path, including the main prison.

The same mammoth waves that killed Oki Tiba's father and more than 131,000 others in Aceh brought the warring factions back to the negotiating table.

Oki Tiba watched the developments unfold with a mixture of happiness and sorrow: A peace deal had been reached, but his father was not around to see it. Nor would he be one of the hundreds of political prisoners released as part of an amnesty deal.

But many things were different this time around, he and others said.

The government and the rebels realized that a successful peace agreement could smooth the way for a $5 billion reconstruction effort in the oil- and gas-rich province. In addition to roads, bridges and schools, that would mean investment.

"This is what we've been waiting for," said Kat Cut, 50, who was at home with her children when the tsunami struck. "We want to rebuild our lives."

She and her family lost everything they owned and are living in a camp with other survivors.

During five rounds of peace talks, which wrapped up last month in Helsinki, Finland, both government negotiators and leaders of the Free Aceh Movement -- known as GAM -- made major concessions.

Rebels change course

The rebels, who in 29 years of fighting never budged from their demand for independence, did an about-face, agreeing to remain part of Indonesia and to hand over their weapons.

In return, the government offered amnesty, land, jobs, and, most importantly, political representation. It will also pull tens of thousands of soldiers and police from the province by year's end.

On Saturday, the Indonesian government and Aceh rebels sent representatives to Finland to sign the agreement.




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