Indonesia's Aceh rebels formally disband their armed wing

Indonesia's Aceh rebels formally disbanded their armed wing on Tuesday, fulfilling the next step of a tsunami-inspired peace plan to end one of Asia's longest separatist conflicts. "The Acehnese national army, or the armed wing of the Free Aceh Movement, has demobilized and disbanded," Sofyan Daud, a former rebel commander, told reporters. "The Aceh national army is now part of civil society, and will work to make the peace deal a success."

The action would take effect immediately, he said. The move paves the way for the group, which has fought a bloody insurgency against government troops for almost 30 years, to transform itself into a political party that is expected to win strong support at provincial elections planned for April.

The announcement came shortly after rebel representatives met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province that was worst hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami one year ago.

The devastation the disaster wrought on the province spurred the peace deal, under which the government will withdraw troops and grant the Acehnese special autonomy in exchange for the rebels laying down their guns, reports the AP. I.L.

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