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Protesters urge monitors to stay in Indonesia's Aceh

Reuters - December 14, 2006

Banda Aceh – Human rights protesters demonstrated in Indonesia's Aceh province on Thursday, urging international monitors overseeing a historic peace deal between the government and separatist rebels to stay on.

Thirty-five remaining European and Asian monitors grouped under the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) are due to leave the province on Friday, ending a 15-month stint there.

About 100 protesters, who said they were victims of human rights abuses during a 29-year conflict between the Indonesian military and separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), rallied near AMM headquarters in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

They demanded the AMM negotiate the release of more than 20 people still being held in Indonesian prisons. "We victims of human rights abuses are asking the AMM not to leave Aceh before its job is done," protest leader Ali Zamzani told Reuters.

In August 2005, Jakarta signed a peace accord with GAM in Helsinki under Finnish mediation, bringing an end to a conflict that killed an estimated 15,000 people, mostly civilians. The Helsinki agreement came after months of negotiations, partially spurred by the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that left around 170,000 Acehnese dead or missing.

The AMM, led by veteran Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith, has overseen GAM's surrender of arms as the Indonesian military scaled back its presence on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

On Monday, Aceh held its first direct elections for top executive posts in the province – the governor and deputy as well as 19 mayors and regents. The vote was seen as a key step in cementing the truce.

Former rebel spokesman Irwandi Yusuf easily won the governorship, according to a sampling of votes taken from polling station throughout Aceh.

Yusuf said on Sunday the absence of monitors to oversee the peace pact in Aceh was worrying.

"If we can move forward nicely without AMM, that is great. But if conditions worsen again because of the absence of AMM, I will call them back or any other body who can act as a referee," he told Reuters.

"But the political will from the government has been quite good," he said, adding that he thought the military leadership was sincere in its commitment to peace.

AMM initially had more than 200 staff when the mission started soon after the truce, but after three 3-month extensions it has only 35 monitors left in the province.