After two years of emergency rule designed to counter a long separatist insurgency, the Indonesian government has decided to allow the tsunami-hit province of Aceh to return to normal rule. The government says the move is a goodwill gesture in peace negotiations with the rebels and that it will make it easier to provide aid to the hundreds of thousands of victims of the December 26 earthquake and tsunami.

For two years, the people of Aceh have been living under emergency rule: first a year of military rule and then a slightly easier regime of civil emergency rule.

The emergency legislation, which allows for the suspension of certain civil liberties, was part of Jakarta's attempt to crush the long-running separatist insurgency of the Free Aceh Movement.

But the Indonesian government decided to allow the enabling legislation to lapse and the four-million people of Aceh are enjoying their first day under normal rule.

The move has been welcomed on two fronts: it is likely to simplify the process of getting assistance to the 600,000 homeless survivors of the December tsunami, and it is a gesture of goodwill before next week's scheduled peace negotiations between the government and the separatists, known as GAM.

Salim Sa'id is a political analyst who teaches at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta.

"The only problem we are afraid of [is] that the GAM will seize this opportunity to play around because the condition is now returned to civilian control and that will provoke the government to bring the military back in," said Salim Sa'id. "That will be even worse if that happens."

The government says it intends to maintain the heavy security presence in Aceh. It is estimated to have about 50,000 troops there.

More than 14,000 people are believed to have died in almost 25 years of conflict in Aceh, and many observers hope that the sense of common cause engendered by December's catastrophe could translate into a lasting peace for the troubled province.