Rebels in Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged Aceh province watched Wednesday as international peace monitors fed a final batch of the insurgents' weapons into a circular saw, the symbolic end to a nearly three-decade civil war. Since the signing of a peace agreement in August, the former fighters have handed in all of their self-declared 840 arms and the Indonesian military has withdrawn nearly 20,000 troops from Aceh, with hundreds more scheduled to leave before the month's end.
Six Free Aceh Movement rebels presented EU-led peace monitors with their guns Wednesday at an emotional ceremony attended by hundreds of people. Each of the weapons was cut into three pieces.
"We are moving in the right direction and are willing to keep moving on," said rebel spokesman Irwandi Yusuf, adding that he was also sad to see the destruction of "guns that were our friends when we were fighting for Acehnese interests."
The rebels picked up arms in 1976 to carve out an independent homeland in the oil- and gas-rich province. Nearly 15,000 people died, many of them civilians caught up in army sweeps through remote villages.
Peace efforts gained momentum after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004, killing more than 131,000 people in the province and leaving half a million others homeless. With the sensitive phase of disarmament and decommissioning near completion, the government will start preparing laws giving the rebels the right to form a political party and cementing the region's right to greater autonomy and control of its natural resources, reports the AP. I.L.
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