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Australia refutes Aceh independence
Indonesia needs international support to solve crisis, Downer says
HONG KONG (CNN) -- Australia will not support calls for a United Nations supervised independence referendum in the troubled Indonesian province of Aceh, the Australian foreign minister said Thursday.
Speaking exclusively to CNN.com following his historic visit to North Korea, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia's stance on Aceh remained unchanged despite renewed calls to support independence movements.
"This is a matter that Indonesia needs to resolve itself," Downer said.
"I think it's important the international community stands a step back and allows (Indonesian) President Wahid and his government and those involved in these movements in places like Aceh and Irian Jaya to work together to try to find a solution that suits Indonesia and all Indonesian people."
Downer's remarks came following a week of mass demonstrations and increased violence in Aceh.
Independence supporters continued their campaign with more than 400,000 people attending rallies in the province in the past seven days. On Tuesday, thousands of protesters rallied in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, 1,700 kilometers (1,060 miles) northwest of Jakarta, demanding a United Nations-supervised vote and threatening a hunger strike to back their demands.
The rally, triggered by allegations of recent military brutality, also demanded Jakarta withdraw its unpopular troops. Indonesia's military forces are accused of widespread human rights abuses.
The largely peaceful rallies were overshadowed by more bloodshed last weekend after supporters clashed with Indonesian security forces and other civilians. At least 14 people died when police fired on Acehnese trying to travel to Banda Aceh for a big pro-independence protest at the weekend, pro-independence groups said.
Talks in Geneva put on hold
The recent violence prompted Acehnese separatist leaders to delay talks that were scheduled to begin on Thursday in Geneva, the latest in a series since a cease-fire began on June 2.
Demands for independence in Aceh have been fueled by years of human rights abuses and resentment over what is seen as Jakarta siphoning off wealth from Aceh's national resources.
President Abdurrahmann Wahid has promised greater autonomy for the region, including the implementation of Islamic sharia law in the staunchly Muslim province.
But Wahid has ruled out moves leading to the province's breakaway. Some political observers of Indonesia say such an action could trigger a domino effect in other separatist regions and ultimately Indonesia's disintegration. Indonesia lost East Timor in a U.N.-supervised ballot last year.
While pro-independence lobby group United People of Aceh claim 95 percent of Acehnese want independence, the movement is still failing to attract international backing.
Australian Foreign Minister Downer says it is in both the region's and the world's interest that Indonesia remains a united country. He offered assistance to Wahid's government.
"We extend to them our sympathy and our assistance in trying particularly to address their economic issues and also to make it clear, as I think the international community needs to from time to time, that we don't support the fragmentation, the disintegration of Indonesia," he said.
"What we don't want to do is take steps that would encourage the disintegration of Indonesia, and calling for more referendums and all these sorts of things I think is inappropriate."
Reuters contributed to this report.
Aceh rebels set to delay peace talks with Jakarta
Political Resources on the Net - East Timor
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