Indonesian Rebels in Aceh

Begin Surrendering Weapons

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- Separatist rebels in Indonesia's Aceh province started handing over weapons to international monitors Thursday, a crucial element in a peace deal that has brought hope to the tsunami-ravaged region.

Questions quickly emerged, however, about the quality of the arms surrendered.

The accord signed last month in Finland is seen as Aceh's best chance in years to end three decades of fighting that has claimed 15,000 lives. Several earlier agreements have collapsed because of distrust.

A convoy of rebel commanders and low-ranking fighters arrived at a park in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, for the first handover, pulling out several white bags containing 78 aging firearms.

"We want to prove to those who still have doubts that we are really committed to this peace process," said rebel spokesman Irwandi Yusuf, noting that while many of the weapons were "old and ugly, I assure you they are still deadly."

Pieter Feith, the Dutch diplomat overseeing the 220-member Aceh Monitoring Mission, said the weapons turned in for decommissioning must be functional and have steel chambers and barrels.

But the government and the rebels quickly disagreed which arms would qualify, and by Thursday evening it looked as if more than 20 would be ruled out. The rebels have agreed to surrender a quarter of their 840 weapons by Saturday and the remainder by year's end.

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There were no reports of deaths, and only three serious injuries had been reported by late afternoon, said Roberto Vazquez, Mexico state civil defense director. He said hundreds were treated for cuts and bruises or shock after the explosions at the San Pablito Market in Tultepec, a few miles from Mexico City.

Vazquez said authorities were checking reports that someone had thrown a lit firecracker inside the market.


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-- From News Services

A firefighter carries a papier-mache bull, used in Independence Day celebrations, after a fire in Mexico's most famous fireworks market set off a chain of explosions, destroying its stalls.