LHOKSEUMAWE, Indonesia – Indonesian soldiers began boarding a warship today to leave Aceh province, honoring a major concession in a peace deal to end one of Southeast Asia’s longest-running wars.
About 800 troops overloaded with kit bags and carrying automatic weapons waved their berets in the air as they stepped on board the ship, which was due to set sail for the Sumatran city of Medan.
“I have been here 18 months, most of which I have spent in the jungle,” said Pvt. Gatot Broto. “I am just very happy to go home.”
A peace agreement signed last month in Finland between the government and the rebels is seen as Aceh’s best chance in years to bring a permanent end to three decades of fighting that has killed nearly 15,000 people.
But many remain wary following the collapse of three earlier accords and were closely watching to see if the military and the rebels would implement the deal on the ground.
Earlier this week, the Free Aceh Movement rebels surrendered more than a quarter of their 840 weapons to EU and Southeast Asian peace monitors by a Saturday deadline, with the remainder to be handed over by Dec. 31.
Today’s planned withdrawal was the first phase in a gradual reduction of military and police units in the region that is linked to the decommissioning process.