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Aceh Monitoring Mission Head Says Task Fulfilled

The head of the international mission overseeing the peace agreement in the Indonesian province of Aceh says the mission's tasks have been completed. The Aceh Monitoring Mission plans to close up shop just days after historic local elections take place next week. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

The head of the Aceh Monitoring Mission, Pieter Feith, says the AMM will disband on December 15, with confidence that peace in the province will hold. The mission has overseen implementation of a peace agreement that ended nearly 29 years of bloody war between separatists of the Free Aceh Movement and the government of Indonesia.

Feith says the Acehnese people are now more worried about their financial security than their physical safety.

"The people in Aceh at this stage are more focused on their economic situation than on security, which I think by itself is perhaps a compliment to the success of the peace process," he said.

More than 15,000 people, the majority of them civilians, lost their lives in the conflict in this oil-and-gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

The December 2004 tsunami that smashed into the region, killing more than 160,000 people in Aceh and destroying most of the infrastructure here, also helped pave the way for peace.

Both the government and Free Aceh Movement, also known as GAM, agreed that rebuilding the province was more important than fighting each other. They signed a peace agreement in Helsinki, Finland, in August 2005, ending the conflict.

As part of the peace deal, GAM gave up its demand for independence, in exchange for a wide-ranging autonomy. The government agreed to withdraw most of its troops, and the AMM, composed of representatives from the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was established to oversee the peace process.

The peace agreement also stipulated that elections for governor, mayor and other top provincial posts be held on December 11, next Monday.

Several GAM members are running for office, and the campaign has brought to light a split within the group: those who stayed and fought the Indonesian military in Aceh, and those who lived in Sweden, where the group maintained a government-in-exile throughout the conflict.

Pieter Feith, the AMM head, says it is time for those living in exile to come home.

"You have to be present here in Aceh, and I see no reason why the GAM leaders now in exile shouldn't accept Indonesian nationality, passports, and establish themselves here, because it's only possible to do this transition into the political system if you're physically present," he added.

GAM has played down its internal differences, pledging to maintain the peace and work towards making the transition from a guerrilla movement to a political organization.