10/13/2008, 00.00
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Aceh gives a hero’s welcome to former ‘Enemy Number 1’ Hasan Tiro

by Mathias Hariyadi
After almost 30 years of exile, the leader of the Free Aceh Movement sets foot on his native soil, given a hero’s welcome by citizens and local government authorities alike. In his speech he stresses the value of “peace’ and “liberty” urging the last rebel forces to give up their weapons.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Teungku Hasan Muhammad di Tiro, the 83-year-old founder of the Aceh Free Movement (GAM), better known as Hasan Tiro, has come home to a hero’s welcome after almost 30 years of exile.

In exile in Sweden since 29 March 1979 Indonesia’s former ‘Public Enemy N. 1’ was able to come back invited by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Other prominent leaders of the separatist movement came with him for the occasion like GAM former foreign minister Zaini Abdullah, Zakaria Saman and GAM military commander Chief Muzakir Manaf.

After flying in on a chartered plane from Kuala Lumpur, Hasan Tiro’s first stop was Aceh province. On setting foot his first action was to kiss the ground—he was then warmly welcomed by Aceh Governor Irwandi Jusuf, also a leading GAM leader.

A large crowd also met him at the airport to give him a hero’s welcome, but the key moment of the day took place at Baitul Rahman Mosque in downtown Banda Aceh where thousands of people had gathered to welcome him.

“Assalammualaikum, I have returned home,” Tiro told the cheering crowd.

In a written speech read by his aide, Malik Mahmud, Tiro expressed joy and happiness for the end to the civil war in Aceh, where “freedom and peace” now reign.

“For this reason I wish to personally thank the president and vice-president of Indonesia who have been involved since 2000 in negotiations with GAM leaders to bring peace to the province,” he said. “They have understood that the civil war could not be ended by force, but only with a peace settlement.”

The peace deal was reached in 2005 in Helsinki after negotiations led by former Finish President and 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari.

In greeting his people Hasan Tiro greeted reminded them of the importance of peace and cooperation with the Indonesian government.

With this in mind he urged the remaining rebel forces “to sit down at the negotiating table” and abandon the armed struggle so that in Aceh’s existing atmosphere of “peace and liberty” can continue in the future.  

Among the Acehnese, Hasan Tiro is revered as the last heir to the Aceh Sultanate.

In the next few days he is expected to visit the burial place of his grandfather, Teungku Chik di Tiro, a national hero who died in 1891 fighting the Dutch. He will also travel to the areas of the province hardest hit by the 2004 tsunami.

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