Thousands of Indonesian troops pulled out of tsunami-ravaged Aceh province Monday as part of an agreement to end one of Asia's longest-running wars. With the withdrawal of the 2,500 rifle-wielding soldiers, who left the port town of Lhokseumawe on three Navy ships, the delicate phase of demobilization and disarmament reached the halfway point.
The military has now pulled out 12,000 of the 24,000 troops slated to leave the province under the terms of the agreement signed with rebels in August, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Ari Soetiko.
The separatists already have handed over half of their self-declared 840 weapons, the remainder of which are to be surrendered by the year's end, according to international peace monitors.
"The withdrawal of the troops went very smoothly today," said Soetiko, adding that many villagers in the former rebel stronghold showed up at the port to wave the soldiers off.
The troops were heading to the port town of Surabaya in East Java province, he said.
Several earlier agreements to end the 29-year war that has claimed 15,000 lives collapsed amid bitterness and distrust.
But efforts to end the fighting picked up after the Dec. 26 tsunami that killed 131,000 people in Aceh and left a half million others homeless, the AP says.
The warring factions said they did not want to add to people's suffering and when they met in Helsinki, Finland, to hammer out a deal, both made major concessions.
The rebels agreed for the first time to renounce their long-standing demand for independence, and the government offered the Free Aceh Movement political representation and an amnesty.