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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005, 07:13 GMT 08:13 UK
Interview: Aceh rebel leader
Gam rebels with weapons - 13/9/05
Gam's fighters say they are ready to go home
As rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) prepared to hand over their weapons on Thursday, the BBC's Rachel Harvey met Suwardi Suleiman, a Gam rebel leader.

Mr Suleiman, 27, joined Gam five years ago and describes himself as the information officer for the region.

He is slightly built with close-cropped hair. He was not wearing a uniform and was not carrying a gun. He did not really look like a rebel.

What do you think about the peace deal that has just been signed?

"We've read what has been decided in the peace agreements, and we've studied it, and we think it's a very good agreement. What we have to see now, though, is how it is implemented on the ground, because we've learned from the past that sometimes Indonesia breaks its commitments.

"Regarding independence, we've put that to one side for now because of what happened to Aceh with the tsunami. In 120 years it was the worst disaster to affect Aceh, so right now we want people to have peace, so that they can rebuild their lives."

So you have not completely given up your wish for independence - it is just an issue you have put to one side?

"We've put it aside. The most important thing now is to rehabilitate the lives of Acehnese people. We have an expression: first you fall off the ladder, then the ladder falls and hits you. That's how it is here. First the Acehnese people were living with the conflict, then they were hit by the tsunami. They really need humanitarian help. Politics and freedom? We can talk about that later on, we'll see how the peace agreement is implemented first.

You have made clear you do not completely trust the Indonesian government and Indonesian army, but can you guarantee that your old soldiers will do exactly as they are told?

"We're 100% sure that everyone in Gam will commit to this agreement. We've spread the information through every level of the command. We've already gathered all our weapons and handed them in to our commander. So far everyone has followed that order, so we're very sure about our commitment."

The conflict in Aceh has been going on for almost 30 years now, all of your life. How will it affect you personally if peace really does hold? What will you do with the rest of your life?

"I will go back to my community and settle back in there again. I also want to continue my studies. I have some background in law and in journalism. I want to learn more, then go back to my people to be a teacher.


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