Still, formidable obstacles remain in the negotiations, which reconvene in April:
• While GAM is willing to relinquish its goal of complete independence, the rebels have rejected Jakarta's formulation for provincial autonomy, saying they want much more local control of Acehnese affairs.
• GAM wants to form its own political party and run in elections after a peace agreement is signed. Current law, however, bars those who have been involved in separatist activity from taking part in local elections.
• The Indonesian military derives substantial income from a range of businesses in Aceh. That cash flow would be threatened by a reduced military presence in the province.
• Years of fighting have left both sides deeply suspicious of each other. On Feb. 20 an Indonesian soldier was killed and seven others wounded in what both sides say was an unprovoked attack by their opponents. "It is an indication that GAM doesn't care about Helsinki or rebuilding," claims Major Sandy, who commands a detachment of Indonesian marines in the area. "They just want to attack." Despite the tsunami, real peace won't be possible until the two sides overcome this visceral distrust.