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Indonesia Says More Than 100,000 Buried

By Dean Yates and Tomi Soetjipto

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesia said on Thursday it had buried more than 100,000 tsunami victims as government officials and rebel leaders from devastated Aceh province gathered in Helsinki to revive peace talks.

In the Acehnese capital, Banda Aceh, trucks manned by Indonesian soldiers and volunteers dumped bloated and rotting corpses into lime-coated pits, a common sight around the province on northern Sumatra island which bore the brunt of the waves.

With nearly 130,000 people still missing, and more than 1,000 bodies recovered daily from the mud and rubble, the task could continue for weeks.

"The total number of bodies buried is 101,199. The number of missing is 127,749," the tsunami crisis center in Banda Aceh said in a statement. Workers recovered 2,168 bodies on Wednesday.

Nearly 300,000 people have been confirmed dead or are still missing around the Indian Ocean after the Dec. 26 undersea earthquake and ensuing tsunami, the worst in recorded history.

In Helsinki, Indonesian ministers and Aceh rebel leaders, trying to build on an outpouring of goodwill and aid from around the world, arrived for talks aimed at restarting a peace process that collapsed nearly two years ago.

Indonesian chief security minister Widodo Adi Sutjipto was expected to lead the talks with the exiled leadership of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Delegation members, including Information Minister Sofyan Djalil and Justice Minister Hamid Awaluddin, did not talk to reporters on arrival in the wintry Finnish capital.

The delegation is the highest-level team Jakarta has ever sent for such talks.

The Acehnese side will field GAM's self-styled prime minister, Malik Mahmud, and Foreign Minister Zaini Abdullah, who head an exiled government based in Stockholm since the 1970s.

Rebel spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah said in Stockholm before flying to Helsinki that his side had no preconditions.

"We will talk and give our views and then it is up to the facilitator to see where we go from there ... (but) the conflict has been going on for the last 30 years. You cannot solve problems overnight or over the weekend," he told Reuters.

A senior Western diplomat in Jakarta said he thinks Indonesia's government believes the people of Aceh are fed up with the fighting and ready for change.

"Now does that translate into a settlement? I'm not sure that it does yet, but it might transform into new conditions to move better for a settlement," the diplomat said.

Aceh took the brunt of the tsunami with an estimated 220,000 of its inhabitants killed or missing.

The tragedy prompted renewed efforts to resolve a rebellion that has killed more than 12,000 since 1976 in Aceh, a gas-rich province with a population of about four million who are almost all Muslims.

The Helsinki talks meant little to some Acehnese still struggling to cope.

"For us, we don't really care," said Muhamad Fagari, 35, a tailor in Banda Aceh. "I think it is good if there is a peace talk, but I am not sure whether I should be optimistic."


Jan Egeland, the U.N. coordinator who played a central role in organizing aid, took stock of the biggest relief effort since World War II and praised the world's swift response.

Despite finding no roads, few airstrips and bad weather, "we believe we succeeded in avoiding this second wave of death," he told a news conference. "It is remarkable."

But Egeland said too many people still lived in tents, and sanitation and health care remained precarious.

Jack Chow, a World Health Organization (news - web sites) official, said 80-90 cases of malaria and one of dengue fever had been reported from tsunami-stricken areas.

"We are very concerned about the advent of both the malaria and dengue fever seasons," Chow said.

Japanese warships arrived off the Sumatra coast this week in Tokyo's largest overseas military deployment since World War II. Japan committed 970 personnel to the mission on top of $500 million in grants pledged to tsunami-struck countries.

On Thursday, curious Acehnese watched as two hovercraft carrying Japanese troops roared ashore on a beach northeast of Banda Aceh.

Sensitive to the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops in the rebellious province, Indonesia has set a timetable for foreign forces to leave by the end of March.

Some, such as the United States, which has been the backbone of helicopter missions, already plan to scale back.

Governments, aid groups and private donors have pledged more than $7 billion so far in tsunami aid or future reconstruction to the 10 affected nations, but much of it has not yet materialized.

Food was distributed to 1.2 million people, Egeland said. (Additional reporting by Peter Starck in Helsinki and Evelyn Leopold in New York)

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Damn when i very first heard about the tsunami i definatly didn't think it would have been anywhere near as devistating as this!
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