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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 December 2005, 09:46 GMT
Aceh marks final troop withdrawal
Indonesian soldiers celebrate as they prepare to leave Aceh, 29 December 2005
Under the peace deal only local troops will remain in Aceh province
A ceremony has taken place in Aceh marking the withdrawal of Indonesian troops sent there to combat an uprising which has cost more than 15,000 lives.

The pull-out is the final military step in a peace deal agreed with rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) aimed at ending 26 years of bitter conflict.

The rebels have already handed in their weapons and dissolved their armed wing.

The peace deal finally came together following the tsunami a year ago which devastated large parts of the province.

More than 120,000 Acehnese were killed in the disaster - and in the face of such widespread loss of life, the two sides appeared no longer to have the stomach for the fight, reports the BBC's Jakarta correspondent, Rachel Harvey

Gam gives up all 840 of its weapons in four stages
Government withdraws some 24,000 troops in four stages
Disarmament and withdrawal to be complete by 31 December
Government facilitates Aceh-based political parties
Amnesty granted to Gam members
Truth and reconciliation commission established
Aceh monitoring mission set up by EU and Asean

Hundreds of people gathered on the dockside at Lhokseumawe to witness the short ceremony marking the troop withdrawal.

"We realise that eternal peace is the desire of all Acehnese," said Aceh military commander Supaidin Adi Saputra.

"Let us create a peaceful atmosphere and free the people of Aceh from fear and danger, both physical and non-physical."

He called on former separatist rebels to take part in rebuilding the province.

The 3,353 soldiers boarded ships and a Hercules air carrier and were due to leave Lhokseumawe port later on Thursday, marking the final withdrawal of some 24,000 government soldiers.

Under the peace deal agreed in August, the rebels dropped their demand for full independence in return for more autonomy for the province, which lies at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.

The Indonesian government has agreed to station no more than 14,700 soldiers and 9,100 police in Aceh, all of which are to be locals.

Peace catalyst

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to broker peace in the region, but peace efforts were given added impetus after the tsunami of 26 December 2004.

"The tsunami itself has brought the two parties to the negotiating table to allow free passage for the humanitarian workers to be able to carry out their normal duties, in which they have really excelled," Gam spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah said.

More than 120 international aid organisations are now based in Aceh. Areas that were still no-go zones in the first few months after the tsunami are now opening up and the underlying threat that foreigners might be asked to leave has receded.

Before the peace deal was signed, Indonesia had more than 35,000 soldiers and 15,000 police in the province.

The deadline for the decommissioning of rebel weapons and withdrawal of Indonesian forces was the end of the year.

Former rebels have handed in more than 800 weapons to international monitors.

Under the terms of the agreement, Gam should be allowed to form a local political party, but that requires a change in the law which must be approved by parliament in Jakarta.

Our correspondent says that although there are still major challenges ahead, such as reintegrating former rebel fighters into civil society, the early stages of the peace process have gone remarkably smoothly.

Hear about the peace deal

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