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International Monitors in Indonesia Gear Up for Peace Process

Nearly 200 monitors from the European Union and the Southeast Asia have arrived in Indonesia's Aceh province to oversee the implementation of the peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement.

The Aceh Monitoring Mission, or AMM, officially opens on Thursday, September 15, the day hundreds of members from the rebel Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, are to begin handing in their weapons.

The AMM's mandate was laid out when representatives from GAM and the Indonesian government signed an agreement in Helsinki last month to end nearly 29 years of conflict in Aceh province.

Pieter Feith, head of the monitoring mission, says it will ensure the peace process runs smoothly.

"We shall monitor the decommissioning by GAM fighters as well as their demobilization and reintegration into civil society," said Mr. Fieth. "We shall monitor the withdrawal and redeployment of the Indonesian army and police forces, and we shall monitor the human rights situation," he said.

Under the accord, GAM must hand in 25 percent of its estimated 840 weapons. After that, the military and police will begin to withdraw from the province on the northern tip of Sumatra Island.

Mr. Fieth says the weapons handover is a very important step within the peace process.

"Let me say that this is significant …. It is more the symbolic, psychological, political gesture of laying down weapons that the GAM is ready to do now that counts and this will also mark their transition from a fighting force in the face of armed struggle to their entry over time into the political process," he said.

Earlier attempts at peace have failed. More than 12,000 people, most of them civilians, have died in the conflict in Aceh, which is rich in oil and natural gas.

But December's tsunami, which destroyed much of Aceh and killed more than 160,000 people, brought the two sides back to the negotiating table in an attempt to end the conflict and allow them to concentrate on rebuilding the shattered province.

Mr. Fieth says he believes the peace agreement will hold.

"The agreement is much more comprehensive, where as a couple of years ago it was only a cease-fire agreement. have more authority. There's more at stake for both parties. So I think all of these considerations make that the outlook is positive, particularly if we see evidence of GAM decommissioning in the coming days and the withdrawal process started," he said.

With the reconstruction of Aceh in full swing, people here are hoping this time peace will prevail as they struggle to rebuild their lives and their homes.