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Indonesia has declared a military emergency in Aceh Province, and a top official has announced the start of a military offensive against separatist rebels. The announcement was made shortly after emergency talks aimed at renewing Aceh's stalled peace process failed.

Indonesia's top security minister says President Megawati Sukarnoputri made the decision about Aceh after talks in Tokyo failed to bridge the gap between the government and rebels of the Free Aceh Movement.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says the president of the Republic of Indonesia has made the decision to declare Aceh to be in the status of military emergency.

The move gives security forces increased powers of search and detention during times of crisis, but ultimate control of the province remains in the hands of civilian authorities.

At the same time, Mr. Yudhoyono said the government would launch its integrated operation in Aceh. The plan calls for a combination of humanitarian relief, efforts to improve local governance and law enforcement, and security operations to be carried out by the military.

The offensive could last as long as six months.

A statement released by the president says that the move became necessary, after leaders from the Free Aceh Movement refused to accept Indonesia's sovereignty over Aceh, during emergency talks in Tokyo. The meeting was seen as a last attempt to save Aceh's five month-old peace process.

The government and rebels signed the peace deal, which was mediated in December by the Switzerland-based Henry Dunant Center. The plan called for both sides to stop engaging in violence as a means of demilitarizing the province, and for elections to be held for a new legislature.

The plan also called for the rebels to receive increased powers of special autonomy for Aceh, powers not granted to other provinces. The government said, by agreeing to that, the rebels had to give up their campaign for independence.

But the rebels said that special autonomy was a step toward achieving independence from Indonesia, a move Jakarta adamantly opposes.

The December 9 peace plan was widely hailed as the best chance Aceh has had since the conflict erupted in 1976 to put an end to the fighting that has claimed more than 10,000 lives. But its collapse was seen by some as almost inevitable, because it was broad enough to allow each side to interpret it so differently.

VOA news
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