Indonesia will pull 2,600 soldiers out of Aceh province on Tuesday as it steps up the withdrawal of troops under a peace agreement that ended decades of rebel conflict, an army spokesman said.
On Sunday, 800 troops were shipped out after the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) fulfilled its part of the first phase of the landmark Helsinki pact by surrendering more than a quarter of its arsenal.
"Four battalions, each consisting of 650 troops, will leave Aceh on September 20. Other departures of troops are scheduled for September 21, 23 and 25," army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Erie Soetiko said on Tuesday in the North Aceh town of Lhokseumawe, the main embarkation port for the troops.
By September 25, 6,000 soldiers would have left under the first phase of the peace pact.
Indonesia had more than 30,000 soldiers as well as about 15,000 police in Aceh on the northernmost tip of Sumatra Island before the August 15 deal, reports Reuters.
The country's powerful military accused of undermining earlier agreements reiterated that it fully supported the deal.
"The handing over of weapons by the former rebels … is a new chapter that makes us all proud and helps our aim to create a peace in Aceh that the people have longed for for years," said Aceh military commander Maj. Gen. Supiadin, who goes by a single name.
Soldiers loaded down with bags and automatic weapons smiled and joked as they gathered at the port in the northern city of Lhokseumawe early Sunday.
"I have been here 18 months, most of which I have spent in the jungle," said Pvt. Gatot Broto before the ship set off for the city of Medan on Sumatra island. "I am just very happy to go home."
Despite the optimism, many people many remain wary because of the collapse of the earlier accords, and are closely watching to see how this deal is implemented.
Earlier this week, rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, surrendered more than a quarter of their self-declared 840 weapons to EU and Southeast Asian peace monitors, with the remainder to be handed over by Dec. 31, informs ABC.
Photo: the AP