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About 5,000 people have been killed in the region in the last decade.
The area is staunchly Muslim, and has a long history of fierce resistance to Dutch colonial rulers and later to control from Jakarta. From 1990 to 1998, it was designated a "special combat zone" for the Indonesian army, with counter insurgency operations directed against the Free Aceh movement.
Widespread abuses by the military alienated the population and led growing support for the independence movement.
The province is rich in mineral resources but was impoverished by the former Suharto regime. During his rule disaffection was so high in Aceh that in the 1977 and 1982 elections it was the only province where an opposition party successfully beat the ruling party Golkar.
Interest in the June 1999 elections was low, and separatist guerrillas threatened to attack anyone who voted.
While president, Mr Wahid has reduced the presence of non-Acehnese forces in the province, and human rights trials have begun. In May 2000 a three-month ceasefire was agreed.
However, the problems of this troubled province are far from being resolved. The separatist rebels have not withdrawn their demands for independence.But the Indonesian Government says full-blown independence is not an option; the most they have been offered is limited autonomy.