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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Indonesia Offers Talks With Free Aceh Rebels

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- Indonesia offered on Wednesday to hold talks with rebels in tsunami-hit Aceh, hoping to ease security fears in a stricken province where the president said 40,000 people were still missing after the Dec. 26 disaster.

As helicopters flew more supplies to victims in remote parts of Aceh, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the government hoped to start talks with Free Aceh rebels by the end of the month -- although he could not confirm a place or a date.

"Behind the cloud there must be a silver lining. Behind the scenes, a process is happening towards reconciliation," he said.

Jakarta's long struggle with the Free Aceh Movement, known by its acronym GAM, has been a worrying backdrop to the massive international relief effort in Aceh where more than 115,000 people were killed in the earthquake and tsunami that followed.

Wirajuda said the calamity had prompted new efforts to resolve the conflict, which has taken 12,000 lives since 1976.

But a spokesman for GAM's exiled leadership in Sweden said there had been no progress on talks. "We haven't had any concrete response from the Indonesian side," said Bakhtiar Abdullah.

GAM's leaders have repeatedly welcomed relief efforts spearheaded by the United Nations and the rebels have said they would not attack aid workers or convoys.

Political concerns have also plagued relief efforts in Sri Lanka, where the Tamil rebel-controlled northeast is waiting to see if it will get a piece of the government's $3.5 billion tsunami reconstruction program.

"The tsunami didn't wash away political divisions. In fact it may have made them worse," said Jehan Perera, director of the National Peace Council in Sri Lanka.

"What we have here is a moment that will define the peace process and politics for years."

More than 175,000 died in the tsunami that ripped coastal areas of Indian Ocean nations as far away as Africa.

More than 1.5 million people have been left homeless around the region from Thailand to the Maldives and Somalia.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told a donors conference about 40,000 people remain missing in Aceh, which bore almost two-thirds of the total fatalities from the catastrophe.

"As of now, we know that there are over 100,000 dead and 40,000 missing," Yudhoyono said in his opening address to an annual conference of Indonesia's donors in Jakarta.