In what the government termed a “historic event”, members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) handed over Kalashnikov rifles, handguns, a machine gun and a rocket propelled grenade launcher to monitors from Europe and Southeast Asia on Thursday.
After an inspection, the monitors cut the guns into three pieces using electric cutters.
GAM official Irwadi Yusuf said 78 firearms were surrendered at the ceremony held under a clear sky in a field in the Aceh provincial capital. It was the first in a series of weapons handovers scheduled until the end of the year.
The disarmament is taking place under a peace agreement signed one month ago in Helsinki by the separatists and the government.
In return, the government will withdraw non-local troops and police.
Aceh Monitoring Mission
Thursday’s ceremony marked the start of work by the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) created under the agreement, which comprises about 240 observers from the European Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
GAM official Irwadi Yusuf said
It is the EU’s first peace-monitoring venture in Asia.
About one dozen AMM members, including chief monitor Pieter Feith, witnessed the weapons surrender along with dozens of Indonesian military, police and government officials.
Questions however emerged about the quality of the firearms surrendered.
Pieter Feith, the Dutch diplomat overseeing the 220-member Aceh Monitoring Mission, said the weapons turned in for decommissioning must be functional and have steel chambers and barrels.
But the government and the separatists quickly disagreed which arms would qualify, and by Thursday evening more than 20 had been ruled out.
Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said all 840 guns must
be foreign-made and in working order – such as the Chinese-made AK47s that were seized almost weekly by military patrols in 2004 – not crude weaponry that can be churned out in jungle factories.
Monitors destroyed rifles that
Yusuf said GAM’s armory included homemade weapons and that they should be counted.
But overall, everyone was upbeat, saying things had gone as well as could be expected.
Close to 40 GAM members dressed in civilian clothes delivered the guns. Some also brought cameras to record the moment.
“We have fulfilled our mandate under the MOU. Now it is TNI’s (the military’s) time,” Yusuf said.
One former separatist, Muzakkir, 30, who was recently released from prison, said he went to the ceremony out of curiosity.
“We do have a lot of complaints… because this concerns the destruction of weapons, and weapons are our best friends”Sofyan Dawod
“I just want to watch because they used to be my comrades,” said Muzakkir, who said he had been involved in three clashes with the military.
Adi, one of the separatists who delivered the guns that were destroyed, said he backed the disarmament process even though he did not know what he would do now.
“I accept this disarmament wholeheartedly,” said Adi, in his forties.
Other rebels were not as accepting, said separatist spokesman Sofyan Dawod.
“We do have a lot of complaints… because this concerns the destruction of weapons, and weapons are our best friends,” he told reporters, stating that despite those complaints the peace process was in the interest of the Acehnese people.
“There’s much better ways than killing,” said Yusuf.
After the weapons were handed over, two GAM representatives shook hands with the foreign monitors.
Feith later called the event “significant and encouraging.”
Britain, which currently holds the EU chair, said in a statement it warmly welcomed the implementation of the agreement.
Indonesia will reduce its troops
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the peaceful settlement would set “a very positive example regionally and internationally.”
Similar weapon handovers were planned for Friday and Saturday to bring the total surrendered firearms to 210, or a quarter of the GAM’s declared arsenal of 840.
The military and police will, in return, proportionately reduce to zero their troops who were sent to Aceh from elsewhere in the country. They will leave behind 14,700 soldiers from Aceh-based units and 9100 local police.
Indonesian Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said at a press conference after the ceremony that it was a “historic event.”
Observers see the Helsinki pact as the best chance yet of ending the conflict which has claimed about 15,000 lives, most of them civilians. GAM began its struggle for an independent state on the western tip of Sumatra island in 1976.
Earlier truces in 2000 and 2002 collapsed and led to a massive government offensive in 2003 by tens of thousands of troops and paramilitary police backed by armour, artillery, naval and air power.
A peace deal was signed in Finland
There was a renewed push for peace after the death of about 131,000 Acehnese in last December’s earthquake and tsunamis that wiped out entire villages and severely damaged the capital, Banda Aceh.
In addition to supervising the disarmament, the AMM is tasked with monitoring the demobilisation of 3000 GAM fighters and the pullout of non-local military and police units.
Feith, who served as a NATO mediator in the Balkans, has the authority to investigate and rule on alleged violations of the peace agreement.
Along with its European members, the AMM includes unarmed
military representatives from the ASEAN nations of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
Under the Helsinki agreement, GAM dropped its long-held demand for independence in exchange for a form of local government in Aceh, a province of about four million people.