Indonesia prepares to pull out more troops from Aceh province as part of peace deal

Military police searched the bags of some 2,500 Indonesian soldiers on Sunday ahead of their withdrawal from Aceh province under the terms of a peace deal to end one of Asia's longest-running wars.

The troops are scheduled to leave from the port city of Lhokseumawe on Monday, bringing to about 12,000 the number of soldiers pulled out of Aceh since September. The withdrawal will complete the second of four phases of military redeployment.

Military police were searching the soldiers' bags for contraband, including marijuana, which is widely cultivated in the province, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Ari Soetiko.

The peace deal calls for Indonesia's military to reduce by more than half the 60,000 troops it has in the oil- and gas-rich province by the year's end, and for the rebels to surrender all of their self-declared 840 weapons.

The rebels have already handed in about half of their arsenal.

Three earlier attempts have failed to end the 29-year-long Aceh war, which has claimed 15,000 lives.

The warring factions resumed talks after the Dec. 26 tsunami, saying they did not want to add to people's suffering. The waves killed 131,000 people in Aceh and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

Both sides made major concessions: The rebels agreed for the first time to renounce their long-standing demand for independence, and the government offered the Free Aceh Movement political representation and an amnesty, AP reported. V.A.

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