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Kalla holds historic meeting with GAM chiefs

Jakarta Post - January 22, 2006

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Helsinki – As snow floated down from the dark skies over Finland's capital Helsinki, Vice President Jusuf Kalla and exiled leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) held a historic meeting aimed at building a long-lasting peace in Aceh.

Kalla met for the first time with GAM leaders Malik Mahmud and Zaini Abdullah here Friday evening (early Saturday in Indonesia), following the signing of a peace accord Aug. 15, 2005, to end nearly three decades of separatist fighting.

However, top GAM leader Hasan di Tiro failed to attend the meeting, citing health reasons and bad weather, which made it impossible for him to travel to Helsinki from Sweden, where he lives.

Standing in the front door of the Indonesia House in Helsinki, Kalla and his wife, Mufidah Kalla, welcomed Malik, Zaini and Malik's secretary, Muzakkir Hamid. The group shook hands and exchanged pleasantries for several minutes. "Ah, we finally meet," Kalla said as he shook hands with Malik.

Malik and Zaini, GAM's exiled prime minister and foreign minister, respectively, were at the Indonesia House to attend a reception hosted by Kalla during a two-day official trip to Finland.

The event was also attended by Finland's Prime Minister Matti Vanhonen and Crisis Management Initiative chairman Martti Ahtisaari, who mediated the peace agreement between the Indonesian government and GAM.

Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, praised Jakarta and GAM for their commitment to ending the conflict in Aceh. "Peace would never exist without the commitment of both sides. I have faith in both the government and Mr. Malik and his colleagues," he said in a speech.

Ahtisaari expressed hope peace-building efforts in Aceh would continue in the right direction, saying there remained a lot of work to do.

Malik thanked Ahtisaari for mediating the peace talks that helped the Indonesian government and GAM "become closer day to day". Before the talks, he said, the two sides "were strangers".

"There were some differences, but we learned to understand each other. Eventually we managed to strike an agreement. We are no longer strangers," he said.

On Saturday morning, Kalla and other Indonesian delegates, including former negotiators at the peace talks – Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin, Information Minister Sofyan Djalil and Farid Hussein – as well as Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, held another meeting with the GAM leaders at the Konigstedt Manor in nearby Vantaa, where the Aceh peace talks took place.

Farid said they just exchanged pleasantries and shared memories from the peace talks. Muzakkir Hamid said the meeting discussed the future of Aceh, but did not elaborate.

In a joint news conference with Finland's Prime Minister Vanhonen and President Tarja Halonen after Friday's meeting, Kalla said local political parties would be allowed in Aceh, as mandated in the peace accord.

"This is contained in the bill (on Aceh governance). In accordance with the memorandum of understanding (peace accord), we are offering the possibility of strengthening democracy (in Aceh) through the establishment of local parties," he said.

Kalla's statement contradicts an earlier comment made in Jakarta by Home Minister M. Ma'ruf, who said the bill on Aceh would not include articles that allow for the establishment of local political parties in the province.

The bill, Kalla said, would be submitted to the House of Representatives for deliberation soon. The Vice President, who also chairs Golkar, the country's largest political party, is optimistic the House will pass the bill into law.