Region returns to reconstruction after tsunami anniversary

Tsunami-battered Aceh moved a step closer to lasting peace Tuesday when separatist rebels formally abolished their armed wing, as commemorations gave way to reconstruction work and beach vacations in countries hit by the disaster. The world mourned along with thousands of survivors on Monday as they marked one year since earthquake-churned walls of water crashed into a dozen nations on the Indian Ocean rim, sweeping away hundreds of thousands of lives.

On Tuesday, leaders of worst-hit Aceh's rebels announced they had formally disbanded as an armed group, one of the most important elements of a peace accord with the government reached in talks triggered by the tsunami emergency. "We are entering a political era now, we do not need weapons anymore," Sofyan Daud, one of the group's commanders, told reporters.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, after a meeting in Aceh with rebel representatives, renewed his government's pledge to complete the withdrawal of its more than 24,000 troops from Aceh by year's end. Yudhoyono, who said Monday the peace deal showed that some good had come from the tsunami tragedy, performed prayers and cast petals at a mass grave containing the bodies of nearly 47,000 tsunami victims before leaving Aceh on Tuesday. In Thailand, where about half of the more than 5,000 tsunami victims were vacationing foreigners, tourists on Tuesday returned to sunbathing on beaches where a day earlier many had wept tears of grief.

"Yesterday was really somber," said Shirley Allen, 50, a visitor to Patong beach from Australia's Gold Coast.

With husband, Mark, she hoped the anniversary ceremonies were a turning point in the grieving of survivors and relatives of those who were swept away. "Now that day has passed, they can get on with their lives again," said Mark Allen, 55.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude-9 earthquake, the most powerful in 40 years, ruptured the ocean floor off the western coast of Sumatra island, displacing billions of tons of water and sending 10-meter (33-ft.) waves roaring across the Indian Ocean at jetliner speeds. The waves hit as far away as east Africa and swept a passenger train from its tracks in Sri Lanka, killing nearly 2,000 people in a single blow.

Entire villages in Indonesia and India were wiped off the map. The lobbies of five-star hotels in Thailand were left littered with corpses. Rebuilding, funded a massive US$13 billion (euro11 billion) outpouring of aid donations, is underway, though hundreds of thousands of people are still living in refugee camps or temporary accommodation.

Sabariah, 34, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, on Tuesday went from the camp where she has been living to a building site to watch workers hammering tiles on one of the sturdy concrete structures that will soon be part of a new neighborhood. Authorities have told her that one of the houses has been allocated to her and her two children, though she doesn't know yet which one.

"I'm just so happy to have a home," Sabariah said. "I can't wait to get my family out of that tent." While the tsunami advanced peace in Aceh, it had the opposite effect in Sri Lanka, where bickering over aid delivery and an upsurge in attacks in the past year are threatening a fragile cease-fire between the government and Tamil Tiger separatists. Meanwhile, a meteorologist whose warnings that Thailand was vulnerable to a tsunami were ignored before last year's disaster said many coastal hotels being rebuilt in the country had not hooked into the government's new beachfront alarm system, reports the AP. I.L.

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