Aceh rebels to hand over weapons under accord

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.

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 (0500 GMT). The guns will then be cut into pieces by electric saws.

The accord was signed in Helsinki on Aug. 15, 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.

But disputes over The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) disarmament have helped scuttle previous peace deals, the most recent in 2003.

GAM is expected to hand over some 210 weapons during the next three days at separate locations. It has said that number comprises a quarter of its arsenal.

The rest will be given up in three later stages before the end of the year, reports Reuters.

According to Bloomberg, Attempts at peace resumed this year following the Dec. 26 tsunami that left more than 165,000 people dead or missing in the nation's westernmost province. GAM, which has been fighting since 1976, said earlier it dropped a demand for an independent state of Aceh, which is rich in oil and gas resources.

“Overall the situation has been much better ever since the peace agreement, there is less fear and more people are no longer afraid to travel,” Mirza Risqan, 34, said in a phone interview from Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, where he works as a contractor.

According to the peace agreement, all 3,000 GAM members are expected to disarm by the end of the year. The number of troops in Aceh will be reduced by about two-thirds to 14,700 by the end of the year, while the number of police will be cut to 9,100.

The destruction of the rebel weapons will take place around noon local time in Aceh Besar district outside Aceh, said Andre Scholz, a spokesman of the Aceh Monitoring Mission.

Two battalions from the army's Kostrad strategic reserve were withdrawn from Aceh on Aug. 21, Saputra said earlier. Two battalions of marines were withdrawn before Aug. 15, he said. One battalion has about 700 to 1,000 soldiers, he said.