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News Briefs

Indonesian Rebels Sign Cease-Fire


Indonesian officials and rebels battling for a separate homeland in Aceh province on the tip of Sumatra island signed a peace agreement Monday that could end one of the longest running insurgencies in Asia.

The accord, signed in Geneva by top representatives of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement, calls for a cease-fire and partial demilitarization accompanied by discussions over how to provide greater autonomy to the 4.1 million people who live in the province. These talks would culminate in an election for a regional assembly in 2004.

The accord falls short of the rebels’ long-standing ambition for independence in a region with generous oil and gas reserves. Nor would the agreement satisfy the demands of many Acenese that Indonesian military officers be held to account for what human rights groups say is a long record of atrocities against civilians.

The agreement culminates two years of negotiations involving international mediators, including Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former chief of U.S. Central Command, and includes significant concessions by Indonesia.

Russia, NATO to Sign Military Pact


Russia and NATO will sign an agreement next year to cooperate on rescue missions at sea and are exploring other ways for the armed forces of the former Cold War rivals to cooperate, including in air transport and mid-air refueling, officials from the two sides said Monday.

During a one-day visit here that included a meeting at the Kremlin with President Vladimir Putin, NATO Secretary General George Robertson said the alliance is also prepared to assist Russia in modernizing, downsizing and professionalizing its armed forces.

“Having gone through our own transformations, the NATO nations have gained valuable experience,” Robertson told reporters at a news conference, noting in particular the former members of the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact that are now in NATO. “And they are more than willing to share that experience with our Russian friends. There is absolutely no reason to reinvent the wheel.”

He said a working group from the two sides is looking into this kind of defense reform. “They are not seeking advice,” one NATO official said of the Russians. “But they are not turning down offers of assistance.”

U.S. Begins Testing Virtual Attack On Iraq


The top U.S. commander in the Middle East launched a computerized dry run Monday for an attack on Iraq, overseeing the start of military exercises on a virtual Persian Gulf battlefield from a secretive army base in Qatar.

Gen. Tommy R. Franks of the Army, who heads the Tampa, Fla.-based U.S. Central Command, presided over the rehearsal, called Exercise Internal Look, from his war room at al-Sayliyah military base near Qatar’s capital, Doha. The base has previously served as a storage depot for pre-positioned U.S. heavy armor but has been converted into an operational headquarters for use in a possible conflict with Iraq.

After Internal Look concludes, in about a week, the command center’s modular buildings, computers, communications equipment and sleeping quarters will remain in place in case President Bush decides to launch an offensive against the government of President Saddam Hussein. Getting the equipment into place, and Franks’ role in trying it out, were seen as more links in a growing chain of U.S. preparations up and down the Persian Gulf designed to ensure that, if Bush makes a decision for war, the military is ready to carry out the order.