Indonesia withdraws last police from Aceh province

Indonesia withdrew the last of its police from Aceh province Thursday under a peace agreement with separatist rebels that was propelled forward by the tsunami one year ago. The withdrawal, delayed several times in the last week due to a shortage of ships, was the last military step required under the deal to end a 29-year war that claimed 15,000 lives.

The former rebels, numbering in the thousands, said they could now focus on politics instead of war, setting their sights on local elections scheduled for late April.

After days of waiting at the port in Lhokseumawe, some 2,150 officers boarded a warship Thursday afternoon and headed to their home bases, said Lt. Col. Mulyatno, chief of North Aceh Police. "This is the last batch," he said, noting that under the terms of the agreement another 9,000 police will stay in the province.

Peace efforts picked up pace after a massive earthquake struck off Aceh's coast on Dec. 26, 2004, causing a tsunami that killed 156,000 people in the province and left a half million others homeless. The Free Aceh Movement Rebels and the government responded by hammering out a peace deal that was credited with helping get international assistance to the survivors. The rebels and the government agreed to disarm and demobilize.

Last month, the rebels finished handing over all of their self-declared 840 weapons and the government pulled out more than half of its nearly 50,000 soldiers from Aceh, reports the AP. I.L.

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