Indonesia Reduces Aceh Troops
Indonesian soldiers lugged guns and heavy bags up gangplanks Thursday as they completed the final phase of a troop reduction in Aceh province -- a key step in an accord with separatist rebels to end a nearly 30-year war.
The last of 24,000 troops pulled out on five navy ships and a Hercules air carrier, just days after Free Aceh Movement rebels completed the hand-over of their weapons and disbanded their military wing.
Peace efforts picked up after an earthquake struck off Aceh’s coast last December, causing a tsunami that killed more than 100,000 in the province and left half a million others homeless.
The rebels and the government decided they did not want to add to people’s suffering and reached a landmark agreement in August. The move was credited with helping smooth efforts to get relief to tsunami survivors.
Irwandi Yusuf, a representative for the Free Aceh Movement, and Pieter Feith, head of the 240-strong European Union peace monitoring mission, were among the hundreds who gathered at the port to send off the nearly 3,800 soldiers -- the last batch to leave under the deal.
“I hope this really means peace is at hand,” Yusuf said, adding that the former insurgents were looking forward to taking part in local elections next year.
The rebels handed over their self-declared 840 weapons and gave up their demand for independence.
The government agreed to withdraw about half of its nearly 50,000 troops from Aceh and to give the region limited self-government and control over much of the province’s oil and gas wealth.
“Now GAM can use ballots, not bullets, to fulfill their aspirations,” Feith said Thursday, referring to the Free Aceh Movement by its Indonesian acronym.