The European Union is set to head an unprecedented mission to supervise the implementation of a peace agreement that was signed Monday in Helsinki ending decades of bloodshed in Indonesia's Aceh province.
Protesters have long wanted to see the back of Indonesian troops
About 200 to 250 experts -- mainly from Europe but also from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand -- are to be sent to supervise the disarmament of rebels and withdrawal of Indonesian troops.
Although the operation does not formally start until September 15, several dozen observers will start to be deployed Monday, said Dutchman Pieter Feith, an EU official who leads the "Initial Monitoring Mission."
"The best signal"
The Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist movement signed on Monday an agreement to end hostilities and close a conflict which has killed thousands since 1976.
The mission of European and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) observers is scheduled to last six months but it can be renewed, Feith told journalists here before leaving for Banda Aceh.
European officials have advised the Indonesian government that the "destruction" of recovered arms is "the best signal we could give to the Aceh population."
"There will be spoilers on both sides," Feith acknowledged, although he also said: "I'm reasonably optimistic the parties will comply ... we have assurances at the highest level."
No time to waste
As of Monday, around 50 experts will be sent to Aceh in order "not to let a vacuum develop" between the signing of the agreement and the official start of the EU-ASEAN mission in September, said Feith, who works for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (photo).
The observers, most of whom have military experience but will not be armed, will have offices in four districts in the province but will be able to pick up arms in a dozen areas.
The mission will have no "executive" powers as such, will not take part in any "negotiations" on the ground and will not investigate any past human rights abuses, Feith said.
A major step forward
Free Aceh Movement members display weapon and flag
The operation marks a big step for the EU's nascent security and defense policy after earlier missions in Africa and the Balkans.
"Initially there was a heavy dose of skepticism" about launching such a mission, Feith said.
But he added the Indonesian government had ruled out a role for the United Nations because of past experiences in East Timor, leaving the EU to step in.
The mission is expected to get a formal go-ahead from EU foreign ministers likely early September.