Thousands of people greeted the founder of Aceh’s separatist rebel movement Saturday upon the Swedish citizens return to the Indonesian province following three decades in exile and a civil war that left thousands dead.
Hasan di Tiro’s homecoming came a day after former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari won the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize in part for helping negotiate an end to fighting between the Indonesian government and Free Aceh Movement rebels.
Supporters cheered and waved as the 83-year-old di Tiro arrived from Sweden and was taken by motorcade to the heart of the provincial capital, where he was to meet the governor and former rebels before traveling to his home village.
“Di Tiro’s visit will add to our commitment to building peace and developing our province,” said Aceh Vice Governor Muhamad Nazar.
The former rebel leader left Aceh soon after the 1976 war began and led the now-dissolved separatist group, known as GAM, from exile in Sweden, where he now holds citizenship. He is to return to Sweden next week.
Aceh, an oil- and gas-rich province of 4 million people on Sumatra island’s northern tip, had experienced almost constant warfare for more than 140 years, with at least 15,000 people killed in the last round of fighting.
Many of those who died were civilians caught up in army sweeps of remote villages.
Efforts to end the fighting gained momentum after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004, leaving at least 156,000 of the province’s people dead or missing and a half million others homeless.
As part of the 2005 peace deal, the rebels gave up their long-held demand for independence and handed over all of their weapons. In exchange, the government allowed them to participate in local politics.
Neither side wanted to add to the suffering of the tsunami.
Di Tiro is the grandson of resistance leader Cik di Tiro, a national hero who was killed in combat against occupying Dutch troops in 1891.