Indonesia increases tsunami toll by 5,000

 

Indonesia has increased the death toll caused by the December tsunami by 5,000 people - pushing the overall number of lives confirmed lost to more than 162,000.

The announcement pushed the overall number of lives lost to more than 162,000. The massive earthquake off Sumatra three weeks ago spawned monstrous waves that killed people in 11 countries, including more than 115,000 in Indonesia, most on the island of Sumatra.

A 20-member Japanese medical team arrived in Sumatra to prepare for the Japanese military's biggest overseas relief effort. Japan plans to send about 1,000 troops to Aceh province later this month to set up a hospital, transport medical supplies and help the reconstruction effort, said Col. Takeshi Moriichi, commander of the medical corps for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

Jakarta has expressed unease over the number of foreign troops within its borders and indicated it wants them out by the end of March. But after meeting with Wolfowitz on Sunday Indonesia's defense minister appeared to soften that stance, saying March was more a "benchmark" for his government than a "deadline" for foreign troops.

Indonesia wants to improve and accelerate its relief efforts so that it can assume most of the burden of the relief effort by March, he said.

He also said his government is keen to strengthen military relations with the United States, which have been severely curtailed for years by widespread allegations of human rights abuses by Indonesian troops.

Earlier Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Indonesia, said the United States respects Indonesia's concern about the foreign troop presence and had no intention of interfering in Indonesia's domestic affairs.

"We don't have a plan other than to try as quickly as we can to hand over responsibility to others, and especially to the Indonesian government as they're ready to take that on," he said.

He declined to comment on Jakarta's demands that the United States lift a long-standing ban on selling weapons to Indonesia's military.

The ban was first imposed in 1991 when Indonesian troops gunned down unarmed protesters in East Timor, killing more than 250 people. Eight years later, the ban was tightened after Indonesian troops and their proxy militias killed 1,500 East Timorese after the half island territory voted for independence in a UN-sponsored independence referendum.

In the ongoing recovery work in Aceh province, the United Nations  Development Program started paying about 3,000 tsunami survivors the equivalent of $3 a day to help with the clean up - an attempt to jump-start the region's crippled economy.

AP