Indonesian rebels begin disarmament
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia signed a peace agreement Monday with separatist rebels who have fought for nearly 30 years to create their own state in the western province of Aceh, lending a crucial boost to rebuilding efforts in the tsunami-battered region.
Under the accord, signed at a ceremony in the Finnish capital Helskini, the Free Aceh Movement set aside its long-standing demand for independence and agreed to immediately begin turning over its weapons to international observers, drawn mainly from the European Union.
Disarmament is to be completed by the end of the year.
In return, the Indonesian government agreed to revise its electoral laws to allow Acehnese to form their own local political parties and nominate candidates for all levels of government.
Indonesia will also significantly scale back the size of its security forces in Aceh, now estimated at 35,000 soldiers and police.
The government agreed to notify the observers of any military maneuver involving more than a platoon.
"There is always a time for rain to stop and there is always a time for war or conflict to end," said Indonesian Justice Minister Hamid Awaluddin, who led the government delegation, after signing the accord.
The agreement capped five rounds of talks held in Helsinki with the mediation of former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.