Aceh Rebel Army Is Disbanded

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- Indonesia's Aceh rebels formally disbanded their armed wing on Tuesday, effectively ending their 30-year separatist insurgency one year after the tsunami destroyed their battlefield.

The move paves the way for the guerrillas to transform themselves into political candidates in provincial elections in April, in which they expect to win strong support.

"The Acehnese national army, or the armed wing of the Free Aceh Movement, has demobilized and disbanded," Sofyan Daud, one of the group's commanders, told reporters. "The Aceh national army is now part of civil society, and will work to make the peace deal a success."

The action takes effect immediately, he said.

Tuesday's action is a key step in a peace plan -- born out of the devastation wrought by the tsunami -- to end the province's bloody insurgency, which has left at least 15,000 people dead.

"We are entering a political era now, we do not need weapons anymore," Daud said.

The announcement came shortly after rebel representatives met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, which was one of the worst-hit by last year's tsunami.

Under the peace accord, the government has agreed to withdraw its troops from Aceh, grant the province broad autonomy and allow former rebels to stand in the elections. The rebels agreed to disarm and disband.

So far, the deal has stuck. International peace monitors have overseen the destruction of 840 rebel weapons, and Yudhoyono on Tuesday repeated the government's promise to have the last of more than 24,000 forces gone by the end of the year.

Both sides on Tuesday played down the prospective threat a proposal by Indonesia's military chief General Endriartono Sutarto to send up to 500 new troops to Aceh to help with tsunami reconstruction could pose to the deal.

Yudhoyono said any additional troops would number less than 1,000 and would be engineers who would build roads and bridges. "This deployment should not disturb the ongoing peace process," he said.

Irwandi Yusuf, a senior rebel negotiator, said such a deployment would breach the peace accord and that he believed the deployment would not happen. "I'm not saying it will threaten the peace process if it goes ahead, but it shouldn't happen," Yusuf said.