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Former Aceh rebel leader returns to promote peace

Jakarta Globe - October 16, 2009

Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh – The aging former leader of the disbanded Free Aceh Movement is expected to arrive in the province on Saturday for the second time since he fled the country in 1977.

Tengku Hasan Muhammad di Tiro, 84, who founded the separatist movement, also known as GAM, in 1976, remains widely respected in Aceh, where a three-decade guerrilla war was waged against Indonesian rule until a peace deal in 2005 following the Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated much of the resource-rich province.

Tiro, who has lived in Sweden since 1980, made his first visit to Aceh since 1977 last year. His supporters hope he will remain for good this time to help cement peace in the province.

Komarudin Abubakar, also known as Abu Razak, the spokesman for the Aceh Transitional Committee (KPA) in Banda Aceh, said on Friday that Tiro was coming to Aceh to meet with family members and to reconnect with the Acehnese people.

"Besides that, he also wants to see how Aceh is doing after four years of peace and what the obstacles are in maintaining peace in Aceh," Abu Razak said.

The KPA was established to help reintegrate former GAM guerillas into Acehnese society and to reinforce the peace agreement signed between the Indonesian government and the rebel group in August 2005.

Tiro and his contingent, including former GAM Prime Minister Malik Mahmud and former Foreign Affair Minister Zaini Abdullah, are scheduled to arrive in Aceh at 2:30 p.m. after a one-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. Tiro has been in the Malaysian capital since Sept. 12.

Abu Razak said preparations to welcome Tiro had already been finalized. The KPA and the Aceh Party will dispatch some 250 security officers, including some trained in Libya. The Aceh Police have also been asked to help provide security during his visit.

While in Aceh, Tiro will hold meetings with former GAM field leaders, Aceh Party officials, Aceh Legislative Council members and civil society groups working to strengthen peace and development in the province.

The Aceh Party, which was established by former GAM fighters, won the legislative elections in April. The party gained 33 of the 69 seats in the provincial legislative council. The majority of its lawmakers come from districts that were GAM strongholds during the conflict.

Abu Razak said he did not know how long Tiro would be in Aceh, "But I and most Acehnese hope that he will stay here for good due to his age." "Besides, Aceh is now a more conducive place for peace," he added.

Tiro, who now holds Swedish citizenship, is known among former GAM guerillas as "w ali n angroe" ("guardian of the nation").

Last year, on his first visit to Aceh since his exile, Tiro met with Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

The Indonesian government signed a peace agreement with GAM in Helsinki, Finland, on Aug. 15, 2005, ending a 30-year armed conflict that left some 25,000 people dead, including many civilians. The agreement was prompted by the devastating 2004 quake and tsunami that killed about 170,000 people in Aceh.