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Indonesia, Aceh rebels sign peace pact

The Indonesian government and Aceh rebels on Monday signed a peace treaty to end nearly 30 years of fighting that has killed around 15,000 people.
Acehnese people cheer as they watch the
Acehnese people cheer as they watch the televised signing ceremony in Finland of a peace pact between the Indonesian government and Aceh separatist rebels leaders on Monday.Bay Ismoyo / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Indonesian government and Aceh rebels on Monday signed a peace treaty to end nearly 30 years of fighting in the oil- and gas-rich province that killed 15,000 people.

The signing ceremony in Helsinki followed seven months of talks mediated by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who spurred the two sides to agreement to help international aid reach the Aceh region, which was devastated by last year’s tsunami.

The pact gives amnesty to members of the Free Aceh Movement, also known as GAM. It was signed by Indonesian Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin and Malik Mahmud, an exiled rebel leader who was briefly jailed in Sweden last year after Indonesia accused him of terrorism.

The accord, which became possible after GAM agreed to disarm and to renounce a demand for full independence, will be overseen by monitors from the European Union and Southeast Asian countries.

The peace process was initiated by Ahtisaari, a former peace broker in the Balkans and Namibia, after he was approached by the Indonesian government to help find a solution to the conflict.

GAM leaders, who have been living in exile in neighboring Sweden for decades, also backed the choice of Ahtisaari and joined in the talks that were held at a secluded manor house outside the Finnish capital.

A previous truce ended after only six months in 2003, when the Indonesian army expelled foreign observers, declared martial law, arrested rebel negotiators and mounted an offensive in which more than 3,000 people died.

Three decades of war
Hostilities in the area broke out in 1976. Although many Acehnese wanted an end to the bloodshed, there was general support for independence because of abuses. Human rights groups accuse Indonesia’s army of executions, disappearances, torture and rapes.

Aceh, once an independent sultanate, was invaded in 1870 by the Dutch, who attached it to their East Indies colony, which gained independence as Indonesia in 1949.

After the December tsunami, which killed 130,000 people in Aceh alone, aid workers poured into the formerly closed province, leading to international pressure on Jakarta to halt the violence — particularly from the United States and the European Union.

Pieter Feith, the Dutch diplomat who will head the EU’s monitoring activities in Aceh, on Monday expressed optimism that the new agreement would be more solid than the 2003 truce that quickly collapsed.

“We don’t have a guarantee that all of this will be smooth riding,” Feith told reporters in Brussels.

“But we have assurances, from the highest levels. And I have spoken really through the whole chain of command down to local commanders in Aceh,” he said.