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EU Planning Possible Aceh Monitor Mission

European Union foreign ministers announced on Monday that the bloc was planning a monitoring mission for Indonesia's troubled Aceh province to help supervise a peace deal tentatively reached at the weekend.

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Much of Aceh was devastated by last year's tsunami

"If everything goes well, we are ready to send monitors whenever the agreement is signed," said the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who is expected to visit Indonesia next week.

The mission, which would only be sent if the parties request it, would first seek the cooperation of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its members in supervising the future accord.

The Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) announced on Sunday after the latest round of negotiations in Finland that they had reached a deal to end 30 years of fighting in the separatist province. They plan to sign a memorandum of understanding next month.

Both sides agreed to establish a monitoring mission to check on progress and said they hoped it would be run by the EU and a number of Asian countries. The agreement aims to bring a "peaceful, comprehensive and sustainable solution" to end a conflict that has raged in the province since 1976 and cost nearly 15,000 lives.

Unruhen in Banda

An Indonesian soldier mans his position on an armored vehicle during a patrol in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Tuesday, May 20, 2003.

GAM gave up its demand for full independence and said it would disarm, while the government has announced it will withdraw its troops from the province once the rebels hand in their weapons. Participants agreed that a peace deal had seemed unthinkable after Jakarta declared martial law and launched a major military offensive in Aceh two years ago.

After the tsunami

But renewed efforts to make peace were prompted by a need for international aid to reach Aceh, which bore the brunt of last December's tsunami. More than 131,000 people in the province were killed.

In the conclusions of their meeting on Monday, the EU ministers also pledged to continue to crack down on terrorism, promised new support for Afghanistan and Sudan's troubled Darfur region, and renewed condemnation of Uzbekistan. They said states must "have the necessary measures, as appropriate, in place to confront this threat, be they to track terrorists down, protect potential targets, prepare for an attack or prevent people turning to terrorism."

On Afghanistan, the ministers welcomed the planned deployment of an EU monitoring mission for the September 18 general elections, in conclusions from their meeting. "The EU stands ready to continue its efforts at establishing a sustainable democratic system in Afghanistan for the lasting security of the Afghan people," they said.

The ministers also appointed a special representative for Sudan, former Finnish cooperation and development minister Pekka Haavisto, and adopted a "joint-action" supporting the African Union mission in Darfur. They also renewed their condemnation of Uzbekistan for failing to fully investigate a massacre in the east of the country on May 13.

Condemnation for Uzbekistan

Unruhen in Usbekistan

General view of a rally in downtown Andijan on Friday, May 13, 2005. Armed protesters freed inmates from a prison and clashed with police and security forces Friday as protests over a trial of Muslim businessmen exploded into unrest in an eastern Uzbek city, leaving at least nine people killed and 34 wounded. (AP Photo/ Efrem Lukatsky)

"The Council remains profoundly concerned about the situation in Uzbekistan and condemns the Uzbek authorities' refusal to allow an independent international inquiry into the recent events in Andijan," they said.

They said the bloc was considering launching a mission with the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), using the OSCE's so-called Moscow mechanism. The mechanism allows for an ad hoc team of experts to be established and sent to an OSCE member states to assist in resolving its problems.

According to a UN report, the crackdown by Uzbek forces on demonstrators in Andijan may have been a "mass killing" in which between 200 and 700 people died in a single shooting. Uzbekistan has fixed the death toll at 187 and blamed Islamic militants.

Solana was also to report on his Middle East visit, with the ministers likely to confirm their support for the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. On Iran, he and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany -- the so-called EU3 -- were to report on how negotiations on the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions are evolving since the presidential elections.

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