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Former Aceh rebels complete arms handover

Former rebels in Indonesia’s Aceh completed a weapons handover on Monday under a peace pact that ended one of Asia’s longest running civil wars, foreign monitors said.
/ Source: Reuters

Former rebels in Indonesia’s Aceh completed a weapons handover on Monday under a peace pact that ended one of Asia’s longest running civil wars, foreign monitors said.

“Today we could confirm that the (Free) Aceh Movement has offered the last of their weapons, thereby completing their commitment under the Helsinki (Memorandum of Understanding),” Pieter Feith, chief of the European Union-led Aceh Monitoring Mission, told a news conference.

The rebel movement, known as GAM, and the government have moved quickly to reduce tensions since signing an agreement in Helsinki in August to end the 30-year war in which 15,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed.

GAM and Indonesia’s government signed the peace pact after months of negotiation spurred on by the Dec. 26 tsunami that smashed into Indian Ocean coastlines.

That disaster left around 170,000 Acehnese dead or missing and created pressure for the two sides to end their conflict and smooth the way for a massive international recovery and rebuilding program.

Feith said GAM had turned in 1,018 weapons during the four stages of weapons handover, of which 840 were counted by the monitoring mission as meeting its criteria. That number matched the target under the truce deal.

GAM reached the required level after several dozen weapons were handed in on Monday in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.

Feith said GAM would also give a written confirmation that its former combatants had given up all of their weapons, ammunition, and explosives.

“This confirmation will end speculation about additional weapons being around in Aceh,” Feith said.

The Indonesian military accepted the final results, although they said by their standards a much lower figure of 769 acceptable weapons had been turned in and called on GAM to hand over more by the end of the year.

The fourth and final stage of disarmament
“I would like to give my appreciation to GAM ... but the government would like to give more time until Dec. 31 for more weapons to be handed over,” Major-General Bambang Darmono, the Indonesian government’s senior representative to the monitoring mission, told the news conference.

GAM said that it would comply with the military’s request.

“I would like to confirm (that) if there’s any more weapons in the field, we would like to submit them by the end of the year,” said Irwandi Yusuf, GAM’s senior representative to the monitoring mission.

The fourth and final stage of the weapons handover kicked off last Wednesday and will be followed by the last withdrawals of Indonesian troop reinforcements, which Feith said would get under way on Tuesday in the town of Lhokseumawe, in an area once a stronghold for the former rebels.

The Aug. 15 truce requires Indonesia to cut troop and police levels in Aceh to no more than 14,700 soldiers and 9,100 police. Prior to the pact, it had more than 35,000 soldiers and 15,000 police in the province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

Monitoring mission official Lieutenant General Nipat Thonglek from Thailand told Reuters last week that Indonesia had pulled more than 20,000 troops from Aceh since September and another 6,000 would be part of the final withdrawal.

With the weapons handover now complete and troop withdrawals set to conclude, security experts say the next challenges are finding jobs for demobilized fighters and satisfying rebel demands for political participation in Aceh.

Officials are drawing up a law for governing Aceh that paves the way for Aceh-based parties to run in elections, allowing GAM to take part in politics in exchange for dropping its demand for independence.

The peace pact says the new law must be in force by March 31.