June 3, 2010 / 9:46 AM / 9 years ago

Di Tiro, former Aceh rebel group founder, dies at 84

Hasan di Tiro, founder of the former rebel group Free Aceh Movement (GAM), waves to supporters upon arrival at Pidie in Indonesia's Aceh province in this October 14, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Tarmizy Harva/Files

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - Hasan di Tiro, the founder of the rebel Free Aceh Movement which waged a decades-long war against the Indonesian government, died on Thursday at the age of 84.

A businessman descended from the Acehnese royal family, di Tiro declared independence for the westernmost province of Aceh in 1976.

As many as 15,000 people died in the ensuing conflict between the rebels and Indonesia’s military, and human rights organisations documented numerous instances of abuses.

It took a massive earthquake and tsunami on December 26, 2004, which devastated Aceh and killed an estimated 170,000 in the province, to resolve the conflict.

A peace deal between the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, and the government was eventually reached in August 2005. Di Tiro, who had lived in self-imposed exile in Sweden, returned home in 2009, frail and elderly.

He died of a lung infection in a hospital in Banda Aceh, just one day after the chief political and security minister visited him to reinstate him as an Indonesian citizen.

The Helsinki peace accord paved the way for limited self-rule in the resource-rich province, which is the only one in officially secular but predominantly Muslim Indonesia to have implemented Sharia law.

After the peace deal, GAM members launched new political parties, including the Aceh Party which now runs the provincial parliament, while a former rebel commander was elected provincial governor. Di Tiro was made the guardian of Aceh.

“He had always wanted a prosperous Aceh and I believe most of his dreams have come true. He witnessed a peaceful and prosperous Aceh of today,” said Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf in a telephone text message to Reuters.

Additional reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu in JAKARTA; Editing by Sara Webb

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