Indonesia's military began final phase of its withdrawal from Aceh

Indonesia's military began the final phase of its withdrawal from Aceh province on Tuesday as a part of an agreement to end 29 years of fighting in the resource-rich province, a spokesman said. Lt. Col. Erie Soetiko said about 1,600 soldiers left the province on a navy warship. He promised that by Dec. 29, the government will have withdrawn a total of 24,000 police and soldiers,honoring the government's commitment under the peace agreement. On Monday, the rebels handed in the last of their 840 weapons.

The deal, signed in Finland on Aug. 15, has ended fighting in the province, which had been home to a bitter war that claimed 15,000 lives, many of them civilian. An EU-led team of some 200 monitors has been overseeing the implementation of the deal.

The mission's mandate expires in March next year, but Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said the government would likely request that a smaller team of monitors remain in the province after then.

The government must still pass laws that give the rebels the right to form a political party and cement the region's right to greater autonomy and control of its natural resources, key concessions contained in the peace deal.

Former rebels and the government have also been unable to agree on a mechanism to deliver cash payments to fighters released from prison, which is holding up more comprehensive livelihood programs, the International Crisis Group, a global think tank, said last week. Peace efforts picked up speed after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004, killing more than 131,000 people in the province and leaving half a million others homeless, reports the AP. I.L.

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