Thai soldiers to join EU peace monitoring mission in Aceh

Sixteen Thai soldiers left for Indonesia Friday to join a European Union-led mission to monitor a peace accord between separatist rebels and the government in the country's war-ravaged Aceh province, officials said.

The troops are among 200 to 250 peace monitors expected to travel to Aceh from the 25-nation EU, Malaysia, Singapore, Bahrain and the Philippines. They will start observing the peace deal, signed last month in Helsinki, on Thursday.

The soldiers will fly to the Indonesian city of Medan, where they will join five other Thai troops who traveled there last month as part of an advance team, said Maj. Gen. Weerasak Maneein, the Supreme Command's deputy chief of civil affairs.

The Thai soldiers are scheduled to work in Indonesia for 13 months, Weerasak said.

Under the deal, rebels of the Free Aceh Movement dropped their demand for independence in return for a government offer of amnesty, land, jobs and political rights, as well as a reduction in Jakarta's military presence in Aceh.

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