Indonesia and separatist rebels in Aceh will hold talks seeking to turn the tsunami calamity into a chance for peace as civilians readied Monday for a larger role in relief efforts on ravaged Sumatra.
Nearly a month after the tsunami killed as many as 234,000 people across the Indian Ocean region, a strong earthquake hit eastern Sulawesi island, killing one person, and a tremor rattled Banda Aceh, sending frightened tsunami survivors running into the streets.
The talks between the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) -- locked in a conflict that has killed more than 12,000 people in the last three decades -- were expected to take place in Helsinki later this week, mediated by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.
Concerns about clashes between the Indonesian army and the rebels have stalked tsunami relief efforts in Aceh, on Sumatra's northern tip. The military said last week it had killed 120 rebels in a two-week period, despite separate declarations from each side they would stop shooting if the other would.
News of the peace initiative was greeted with shrugs by some tsunami-weary residents of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province where most of Indonesia's nearly 174,000 victims died.
"To be honest, I don't really care," said Amirudin, 56, who lost his wife and two children in the tsunami. "I mean, this place is already in ruins, why should we need another war?
"If they want to make a peace, that's good. But I don't really care," he said, standing atop the rubble of his Banda Aceh home.
With the United States and other foreign militaries preparing to reduce forces committed to helping tsunami survivors, aid workers prepared for a shift to civilian control of a relief operation that is feeding and providing medical care for hundreds of thousands of people in Aceh.
"I believe there is a consensus on the need for the civilian authorities here at the provincial level and the national level to really take full control of this operation and we're here to support that process too," Joel Boutroue, chief of the United Nations (news - web sites) operation in Aceh, told reporters Monday.
With some roads still impassable in northern Sumatra, foreign aid agencies were looking for alternatives to military helicopters to ferry supplies to remote villages, where relief efforts have lagged.
Ships were being offloaded at Meulaboh, a hard-hit town southeast of Banda Aceh.
"It is clear that the need for helicopters will continue for weeks to come in certain areas," Boutroue said.
The huge international relief effort had succeeded in bringing stability to vulnerable Acehnese and some of the homeless were moving out of refugee camps to stay with extended families, he said.
NEW TREMORS PANIC SURVIVORS
But the trauma of the tsunami, less than a month ago, was still close to the surface. Terrified residents ran into the streets when a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck eastern Sulawesi island early Monday and a quake aftershock hit Banda Aceh.
"We have reports of one dead and one seriously injured from the West Donggala district. In Palu, several shops have been damaged," police commissioner Victor Batara told Reuters from the Central Sulawesi's provincial capital of Palu, 1,500 km (970 miles) northeast of Jakarta.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands and the world's fourth most populous nation, lies along the "Pacific Ring of Fire," where plate boundaries intersect and volcanoes regularly erupt.
Police went through Palu's streets calming residents who, with television images of the tsunami fresh in their minds, thought giant waves were on the way. At Palu's main hospital, some patients fled the building carrying intravenous drips.
"We told them the quake was under land so the possibility of a tsunami is small," Maulidin Labalo, Palu city secretary, told Jakarta-based Elshinta radio.
Indonesian authorities Monday said they had detained an American journalist, William Nessen, who was barred from traveling to Indonesia. He was picked up in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, officials said.
Nessen was banned from Indonesia after being found guilty of immigration violations in 2003, when he was arrested after traveling with the rebels for a month.