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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 12:44 GMT
Peace monitors arrive in Aceh
The Free Aceh Movement (Gam) rebels fire their guns during military training at rebel-headquarters in Aceh
The peace deal calls for the rebels to disarm
International peace monitors have arrived in the Indonesian province of Aceh following the signing of an historic peace deal aimed at ending a 26-year insurgency.


I feel really excited, relieved

Muslim al-Mansur, local farmer
The advance team of 12 are the first to arrive of some 150 people who will oversee disarmament and monitor violations of the peace accord.

The deal allows for autonomy and free elections in Aceh in exchange for the rebels disarming, but not the independence the separatists had hoped for.

Indonesia's military announced on Tuesday that it had halted all operations in the province, in line with the agreement, which was signed in Geneva on Monday.

Prayers for peace

Troops joined with hundreds of Acehnese in a tearful thanksgiving for peace.

Terms of the deal
Immediate ceasefire
Free elections in 2004 to establish an autonomous government, but no independence
New provincial government allowed to keep 70% of fuel revenues
Rebels must disarm in designated areas

"I feel really excited, relieved," said an elderly farmer, Muslim al-Mansur, of the monitoring team's arrival.

"I am old and I want a peaceful future for Aceh, and I can see a peaceful future."

The conflict in staunchly Islamic, oil-rich Aceh province has left about 10,000 people dead.

The national armed forces chief, General Endriartono Sutarto, told more than 2,000 people gathered for prayers at Lhokseumawe, north Aceh, that the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) are "now our brothers and no longer our enemies".

Caution

But the local media, including the province's only daily newspaper, Serambi, were guarded in their optimism.

Map of Indonesia showing Aceh and Jakarta

"We hope the victory we achieved through the signing of a peace agreement can be maintained and realised in the real lives of Aceh society," Serambi said in its editorial on Tuesday.

Members of Gam have warned that they will not give up their campaign for independence

"Free Aceh Movement was formed to fight for the independence of Aceh. That is the aim of Gam and it will remain so," said its leader, Malik Mahmud on Monday.

But he stressed Acehnese would now choose their future through elections.

Mistrust

Under the terms of the agreement, the rebels are supposed to give up their weapons and place them in designated sites.

But how and when to disarm has been a major bone of contention during negotiations.

After years of brutal conflict and a catalogue of human rights abuses, the level of mistrust on both sides is impossible to over-estimate, says a BBC correspondent in Jakarta.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has made solving the Aceh problem one of her top priorities, and if she succeeds it could significantly boost her chances of re-election in two years' time.

For the rebels, the deal falls short of full independence, but offers the chance of free elections for a provincial government which would be allowed to keep up to 70% of Aceh's substantial oil and gas revenues.



See also:

09 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
26 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
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