Indonesia to withdraw 24,000 troops from Aceh province

Indonesia was preparing to pull the last of 24,000 troops from tsunami-ravaged Aceh province Thursday, a key component of a peace accord to end three decades of fighting with separatist rebels. Some 3,350 soldiers carrying automatic rifles and heavy bags lined up before four Navy ships in the port town of Lhokseumawe and were slated to leave later Thursday, said Lt. Col. Eri Soetiko.

"This is the last redeployment of non-organic troops from Aceh," said Maj. Gen. Supiadin at a ceremony marking their departure.

The Free Aceh Movement rebels and the government returned to peace talks after the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami crashed into Aceh, leaving at least 156,000 of the province's people dead or missing and a half-million others homeless.

Both sides said they did not want to add to people's suffering and signed an accord in August to end their 29-year war that claimed 15,000 lives.

The rebels disbanded their military wing this week after completing the handover of their self-declared 840 weapons. After Thursday's pullout is complete, the military will have fulfilled its pledge to withdraw half of its nearly 50,000 troops from Aceh, reports the AP. I.L.

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