Aceh rebels hand over first weapons as part of Indonesian peace deal
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) – Separatist rebels in Indonesia’s Aceh province started handing over weapons to international monitors Thursday, a crucial element in a peace deal that has brought hope to the tsunami-ravaged region.Questions quickly emerged, however, about the quality of the arms surrendered.The accord signed last month in Finland is seen as Aceh’s best chance in years to end three decades of fighting that has claimed 15,000 lives, but almost everything depends on the delicate phase of disarmament and demobilization.Several earlier agreements have collapsed amid bitterness and distrust.A convoy of rebel commanders and low-ranking fighters arrived at a park in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, for the first handover, pulling several white bags containing 78 aging firearms from three vehicles.A grenade launcher, AK-47 assault rifles, handguns and other firearms were placed on a table, registered by EU and Southeast Asian monitors and fed into a circular saw.”We want to prove to those who still have doubts that we are really committed to this peace process,” said rebel spokesman Irwandi Yusuf, noting that while many of the weapons were “old and ugly, I assure you they are still deadly.”The ceremony was attended by government and military officials. Dozens of rebels also showed up on motorcycles, watching from a distance as their guns were cut up. Some said it made them sad, others were hopeful for the future.The rebels have agreed to surrender by Saturday a quarter of their 840 weapons – a figure provided by the separatists, which the government agrees with – and the remainder by year’s end.In exchange, the Indonesian military will more than halve the 60,000 security forces it has in the province, with roughly 7,000 troops scheduled to be pulled out after the first 210 guns are handed in.Pieter Feith, the Dutch diplomat overseeing the 220-member Aceh Monitoring Mission, said the weapons turned in for decommissioning must be functional and have steel chambers and barrels.But the government and the rebels quickly disagreed which arms would qualify, and by Thursday evening it looked as if more than 20 would be ruled out.Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said all 840 guns must be foreign-made and in working order – such as the Chinese-made AK-47s that were seized almost weekly by military patrols in 2004 – not crude weaponry that can be churned out in jungle factories.Yusuf said the rebel’s arsenal included homemade weapons and that they should be counted.But everyone was upbeat overall, saying they were “very encouraged” after the first day of decommissioning and that hiccups were expected.Efforts to end the 29-year civil war picked up pace after the Dec. 26 tsunami crashed into coastlines, killing 131,000 people in Aceh and leaving a half-million others homeless.The Free Aceh Movement rebels and the Indonesian government returned to the negotiating table saying they did not want to add to people’s suffering and hammered out an agreement.Both sides made major concessions. The rebels gave up their long-held demand for independence and the government agreed to give the region limited self-government and control over 70 percent of the revenue from the province’s mineral wealth.The government also offered amnesty to the rebels, freeing more then 1,400 from prisons all over Indonesia just two weeks ago.Smita Notosusanto, founder of the Acehnese magazine Acehkita, said she was hopeful peace was at hand but added “we still have to be realistic.”The rebels are “not a unified force” and include bandits and other common criminals who could stir up trouble, she said. Also, some members of the Indonesian military have benefited economically from the conflict through extortion, tolls, and smuggling, she alleged.Yusuf said if the government backs away from promises to let the Free Aceh Movement take part in local political parties “it’s going to be a real stumbling block.”Some lawmakers in Jakarta oppose the move and Yusuf, who escaped from prison during the tsunami, refused to rule out a return to fighting.He denied the rebels were stashing arms in case things didn’t work out.”We don’t cheat,” he said. “The weapons have served their duty. It’s time to let them go.”Vail Colorado
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