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Indonesian Aceh Peace Agreement Takes Effect

After three decades of bloodshed, a new chapter began in the Indonesian rebellious province of Aceh with the signature of a landmark peace accord between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief General Endriartono Sutarto asserted Tuesday the TNI's commitment to full compliance with the peace pact, which was signed in Helsinki Monday.

"Beginning today, the TNI aborts offensive in Aceh," Sutarto said when visiting a military barrack in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh. He made it clear to his soldiers that hunting GAM rebels is no longer their task.

By signing the agreement, Indonesia agrees to cut by a half the number of troops in Aceh to 14,700 and reduce its police force to 9,100 before the end of the year.

In Jakarta, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono vowed to honor the Helsinki agreement in front of the House of Representatives (DPR) members.

"All provisions contained on the memorandum of understanding must be implemented consistently. I call on all former GAM activists to abide by the agreement too," the president said in an address to mark the country's 60th anniversary that falls on Wednesday.

GAM spokesman Sofyan Dawood in an interview with Jakarta-based Metro TV said his side is ready to hand armaments to the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) as required by the Helsinki agreement.

The AMM is formed at the request of the Indonesian government and will begin its works on Sept. 15. It will be a civilian mission of approximately 200 unarmed personnel from the European Union and five members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

But the initial monitoring presence has started from Monday involving 80 people to prepare for the AMM.

The Helsinki agreement allows the reintegration of active GAM members into civil society and the government must unconditionally release all political prisoners connected with GAM activities in no more than 15 days.

There are more than 2,000 GAM members serving prison terms for treason, many of them have been transferred to state jails in Java.

The release of GAM prisoners will come at time with the government regularly offers remission to prisoners during the national anniversary.

The signature of peace pact in Helsinki and the national anniversary are "very good opportunities for reconciliation," said EU representative Pieter Feith, who has been appointed to head the AMM.

The Helsinki agreement is not the first peace accord signed between the two parties.

In December 2002, the government and GAM signed the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) which was followed by the establishment of the Joint Security Committee (JSC) to monitor the peace process.

But the government accused GAM of failing to disarm and clashes continued in areas declared by the JSC as the peace zones. The extended talks in Tokyo collapsed and President Megawati on May 19,2003 signed a decree on the imposition of martial law and ordered the offensive in Aceh, located on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

The government was prompted to resume talks with GAM by the December 26 tsunami that killed at least 150,000 people and left many more homeless in the resource-rich province.

Speaking to journalists here Monday, Feith said the ongoing peace process is more effective than before because "it is not handed to an NGO but to the EU and ASEAN."

He claimed the AMM is given greater authority and granted with a right to take "binding actions." The mobilization of troops larger than a platoon size, for instance, must be under his knowledge.

The AMM has responsibilities in ruling on disputed amnesty cases, complaints and violations of the truce.

The Helsinki truce was achieved after six months of tough negotiations between GAM, which demands self-rule and own political party in Aceh, and the government, which was under pressures from the parliament to keep Aceh a domestic issue and prevent international interference.

"The conflict in Aceh is a domestic issue. We never intended to internationalize it," Susilo told the DPR.

The recent truce won local media attention Tuesday with all supporting the presence of peace in Aceh.

"With the 12,000 people who died unnecessarily in Aceh over the past 30 years, there is every reason to support this peace accord at all costs," The Jakarta Post said in its editorial.

Weekly newspaper Aceh Kita, literally translates Our Aceh, on its online edition carried a headline "don't die for nothing to die."

"Every death which followed (the truce), would be a blunder that has to be accounted: die for whom? For what purpose?" it said.

(Xinhua News Agency August 17, 2005)

Amid Optimism, Hurdles Still Emerge for Aceh Peace
Aceh Peace Agreement Signed
Indonesia to Withdraw Troops from Aceh
Indonesian Govt, Aceh Rebels Sign Tentative Agreement on Truce
Aceh Peace Talks End Without Success
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