Former separatist fighters surrender in Indonesia's Aceh

Members of the separatist group pose for a photo after surrendering on Dec 29, 2015.
Members of the separatist group pose for a photo after surrendering on Dec 29, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

BANDA ACEH (AFP, Jakarta Post/Asia News Network) - More than 100 former separatist fighters in Indonesia's Aceh province who hid out in the jungles and allegedly committed serious crimes have surrendered, an official said on Tuesday (Dec 29).

The fighters, led by notorious ex-combatant Nurdin bin Ismail, were a splinter faction of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which fought for years against Jakarta's rule before striking a peace deal in return for an autonomy offer in 2005.

Ismail's group claimed to be fighting against the new leaders of the western province - also former independence fighters - whom they said were not running Aceh for the benefit of the people, but rather for a small circle of cronies.

While supporters painted Ismail, also known as Din Minimi, as a "Robin Hood" figure who used stolen funds to help those neglected by the authorities, critics said he led an armed group allegedly responsible for crimes including the kidnap and killing of military personnel.

On Monday Ismail and about 120 of his men handed themselves in and surrendered 15 guns and ammunition to the authorities.

"I am willing to turn myself in because what I proclaim and what I demand are positive things," Din told in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

He said that he had been willing to come out from his hideaway following guarantees from President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo himself that his demands would be considered by the government. Din had had a telephone conversation with Jokowi three days ago.

"After receiving guarantees from the President, I was willing to surrender to the government," Din was quoted as saying.

"I demand that the government implement a thorough reintegration, and take care of the orphans and widows of former [GAM]combatants as stipulated in the Helsinski peace agreement," he said, referring to the treaty that ended the conflict between GAM and the Indonesian government.

The government also granted Din's group an amnesty on all charges, another factor in his decision to surrender.

"My conduct will not be considered as a crime and we will receive an amnesty from the government," he said.

The group agreed to the move after intense communication with authorities in the past two months, the head of the national intelligence agency said, adding the government was still considering whether to grant them an amnesty.

"They did not ask for money nor jobs, but asked that we pay more attention to victims of the conflict, especially the orphans and ex-fighters," said agency head Sutiyoso, who goes by one name.

"If this is granted, then they will end their fight. Their request is fair."

An estimated 15,000 people were killed during almost three decades of fighting between rebels and the Indonesian government.

Both sides finally agreed to a peace deal after a devastating quake-triggered tsunami in 2004 killed tens of thousands in Aceh.

The province has largely been peaceful since the peace deal, but many ex-fighters say they have been left behind and are living in poverty.