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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
Aceh rebels released from prison

Aceh rebel in jail
Hundreds of Aceh rebels expect to be released under the deal
Indonesia has freed hundreds of people from jail under the terms of a recent peace deal struck between Jakarta and separatist rebels from Aceh province.

Almost 1,500 people linked with the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) are being released in all.

Four high-ranking rebel members were among those released.

Observers say the move marks another milestone towards peace after more than 29 years of conflict between Jakarta and Gam, but many obstacles remain.

The releases are among the key confidence-building measures agreed in the peace deal on 15 August.

Acehnese rebels who fled the country to claim asylum abroad will also be encouraged to return and play a role in political life.

However, those jailed for criminal rather than political offences are not covered by the peace deal and are likely to remain in jail.

Those released on Wednesday include senior Gam figures Tenguk Kamaruza, Amni bin Ahmad Marzuki, Nashiruddin bin Ahemed and Muhammad Usman bin Lampo Awe, the AFP news agency reported.

All four were arrested for treason in 2003.

"Our release is a result of our struggle for the past three decades," Tenguk Kamaruza told reporters outside jail.

But he added: "We respect [the truce] and the two sides are committed to implement the agreed points."

Many of the released prisoners were greeted by tearful relatives, but some had no family to welcome them, such as 40-year-old Kardiman, who lost many relatives to last December's tsunami.

"Now I'm alone. My house is gone and my two children and wife died in the tsunami," he told AFP.

Troop withdrawal

The BBC's Tim Johnston in Jakarta says aspects of the prisoner release have already proved controversial, with some MPs urging the prisoners to take an oath of allegiance to Indonesia.

But Gam supporters have objected, saying that in the original agreement the releases were unconditional. The idea seems to have been dropped.

The amnesty, announced on Tuesday, came days after Indonesia began its withdrawal of troops from the province.

In return, the rebels have agreed to hand in their weapons, in a process which is due to start next month.

Some 15,000 people have died in more than 29 years of conflict between the government and Gam.

Observers say this peace package offers the best hope of success in decades.

The Indian Ocean tsunami, which devastated large areas of Aceh province, prompted renewed efforts by the rebels and the Indonesian authorities to end the conflict.


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