HELSINKI, Finland (AP) – The Indonesian government and separatist Aceh rebels reached a tentative agreement Saturday to end one of the world’s longest-running wars, negotiators from both sides said.

The draft accord, which hinged on an agreement to allow the separatist Free Aceh Movement to form its own political party, will have to be approved by the Indonesian government before the two sides can initial it.

“We have worked out a mutually acceptable form of words on political parties” in the draft accord, said Damien Kingsbury, an Australian academic who is part of the Acehnese delegation at talks in the Finnish capital. “This should in principle finalize the negotiations.”

Hamid Awaluddin, Indonesia’s minister of justice, who is heading the government delegation at the talks, declined to disclose details about the draft agreement, saying it would be finalized on Sunday.

“Thank God, finally we had sort of an understanding together,” he said.

The two sides are scheduled to meet again in Helsinki in mid-August to formally sign the agreement ending the war.

The rebels have agreed to set aside their demand for independence but insist the government give them the right to form a local political party in Aceh, an oil- and gas-rich province at the tip of Sumatra island that has been wracked by a separatist conflict since 1976 and was ravaged by the Asian tsunami on Dec. 26.

Indonesian electoral law allows only for nationally based political groupings, an effort to prevent far-flung parts of the ethnically and religiously diverse archipelago from breaking away from the central government, as East Timor did in 1999. Currently, every party in Indonesia must have representation in at least half of the country’s 32 provinces and must be headquartered in Jakarta.

The government has proposed allowing candidates of the Free Aceh Movement run for office as members of existing Indonesian parties. But the Acehnese have rejected the offer, saying they seek a comprehensive and democratic solution that would allow all groups in Aceh to form political parties.

A peace accord would allow members of the Acehnese government in exile in Sweden to return to the region and run for office.

Earlier Saturday, a negotiator said an agreement hinged on “a single word” in the draft.

He said the separatists wanted the government side to drop the word “national” from the draft agreement, which says the Acehnese will be allowed to form “Aceh-based national parties.”

Another major hurdle, the demilitarization of the province where Indonesia maintains 50,000 troops and paramilitary police and the disarmament of the 5,000-strong rebel force, was overcome after agreement was reached that an international mission consisting of at least 300 international observers from Europe and Southeast Asia would oversee the process.

The tsunami, which killed more than 130,000 in Aceh, served as the catalyst for the current peace process. This is the fifth round of negotiations since the tsunami. The talks are being held under the auspices of former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

Jakarta fears that an expected victory in local elections by the separatists would give them a mandate to press their demands for an internationally supervised independence referendum akin to the one that ended Indonesian rule in East Timor.

Fighting in Aceh has been going on intermittently since 1873, when Dutch colonialists invaded the previously independent sultanate. The current round of the war started in 1976. At least 15,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Although many Acehnese want an end to the bloodshed, there is general support for independence because of abuses by Indonesian security forces. Human rights groups accuse the army of executions, disappearances, torture, rape and collective punishment of civilians.



AP reporter Mans Hulden in Helsinki contributed to this report.

AP-ES-07-16-05 1659EDT


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