Aceh rebels to start disarming

Former rebels in Indonesia's Aceh province start handing in guns to foreign monitors on Thursday, launching one of the most important elements of a peace deal that ended 30 years of civil war.

    The rebels signed a peace deal with Jakarta in August

    Monitors from Europe and Southeast Asia will take 200 reporters in buses to a location still being kept secret in the Aceh Besar regency to witness the weapons handover at around midday . The guns will then be cut into pieces by electric saws.

    The accord was signed in Helsinki on 15 August, raising hopes among Aceh's four million people - still suffering from last December's devastating tsunami - that they could finally live in peace after a conflict that killed 15,000 people.

    The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) is expected to hand over some 210 weapons during the next three days at separate locations.

    Good beginning

    Indonesia's government has said the military was comfortable with the number of weapons that GAM has stated as the arsenal held by 3000 active rebels.

    Indonesian forces had battled
    rebels for 30 years

    Jakarta will withdraw 25% of its troop and police reinforcements roughly simultaneously over the four stages, cutting security forces in Aceh into half.

    The final withdrawal under the Helsinki accord will leave Aceh with 14,700 soldiers and 9100 police. Some 1300 police left Aceh on Wednesday, a day ahead of the weapons handover, in what the police said was a goodwill gesture.

    In return for laying down their arms, laws will be changed to allow rebels to form a political party after they earlier gave up demands for independence. Former fighters will also be given land and help with re-integrating into society.

    Indonesia has already freed hundreds of GAM prisoners under a sweeping amnesty. In total, 2000 GAM members are expected to be released, although the number so far freed is not clear.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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