Accessibility links

Breaking News

An Up-and-Down Week for Peace in Four Conflicts

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

From East Asia to West Asia, it was a busy week in efforts for peace.

On Monday, the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement signed a peace agreement in Helsinki, Finland. The treaty officially ends the conflict in Aceh province. Thousands of people have been killed in nearly thirty years of violence.

Under the agreement, the rebels will no longer demand independence. Instead, they have accepted limited self-rule and the withdrawal of Indonesian troops. The government has agreed to pardon the rebels, free political prisoners and let Aceh have political parties.

On Wednesday, Indonesia freed more than four hundred rebels. That happened as the nation celebrated sixty years of independence from the Netherlands.

Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said up to two thousand people still in jail will be freed by the end of the month. The agreement also calls for land, jobs and other measures for people in Aceh.

The earthquake and tsunami waves in the Indian Ocean in December heavily damaged the province. Officials say the peace treaty will help efforts to rebuild.

Recovery from tsunami damage also led to hopes for an official end to the Tamil rebellion in Sri Lanka. But some ethnic Tamil leaders charge that the government has kept millions of dollars in aid away from Tamil areas. And now there are fears of new conflict after the killing of Sri Lanka's foreign minister.

Lakshman Kadirgamar was shot on August twelfth. The government accuses the Tamil Tiger rebels. The rebels deny the accusations. On Thursday, Parliament approved a one-month extension of emergency laws ordered by the government after the killing.

More than sixty thousand people died in the civil war between nineteen eighty-three and two thousand two. The Tamil Tigers fought for a independent homeland in the north and east. They accepted self-rule.

Violent incidents have increased recently. But the rebels say they will not return to war. Norway helped negotiate a cease-fire that has been in effect for three-and-a-half years.

The Sri Lankan government and the rebels have not held official meetings in more than two years. However, on Friday, Norwegian officials said the two sides have agreed to meet to discuss their cease-fire. Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga asked Norway to organize the talks.

In West Asia this week, Iraqi leaders failed to meet an August fifteenth time limit to agree on a constitution. The Parliament in Iraq gave the negotiators an extra week.

The situation was the opposite for Palestinians in Gaza. The end to thirty-eighty years of Israeli occupation has gone much faster than expected. On Wednesday, unarmed Israeli soldiers and police began to remove groups of settlers who refused to leave.

There has been resistance, but the operation could be completed next week. Four out of one hundred twenty settlements in the West Bank will also be removed.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are on the Web at I’m Steve Ember.