More than 70 Achenese rebels were freed from prison early Wednesday, the first batch of some 1,400 separatists due to receive an amnesty as part of a recently signed peace deal ending a decades-long war in the province.
The men, including four senior members of the movement's political wing, were being held at Bandung prison in West Java. They were freed before dawn and were being flown to Aceh later Wednesday, AP reports.
More than 1,300 other prisoners, both those held in Aceh and at prisons elsewhere in Indonesia, were also scheduled to be released Wednesday. The amnesty, which is to be followed next month by the handover of rebel weapons, is seen as the first test of the willingness on both sides to comply with the terms of the accord.
A 2003 truce in the province, which lost some 130,000 people in the Asian tsunami disaster, quickly broke down amid violations on both sides. The deal has angered some nationalist politicians and military officers, who fear it gives too much to the insurgents. The involvement of foreign monitors to oversee the accord has also attracted criticism. It became possible after the rebels gave up their long-held demand for full independence in exchange for the right to political representation. Despite concerns that hard-liners on both sides may try to scrap the agreement, it is considered the best chance Acehnese have had in years to bring a permanent end to the fighting, which has killed some 15,000 people.