JAKARTA: The death toll from the Indian ocean tsunami continued its sickening rise yesterday with more than 280,000 people now presumed dead as bodies continued to be recovered one month after the catastrophe.
Indonesia, whose Aceh province suffered destruction so severe that the full death toll will never be known, said it now had 228,429 listed as dead or as missing and presumed dead.
Eleven 11 Indian Ocean nations were hit by the Dec 26 earthquake and tsunamis which ripped apart entire communities.
In Aceh, where an intense effort to help hundreds of thousands of survivors is only just starting to ease with the departure of some foreign military, there are hopes that the tragedy would inspire peace with separatist rebels.
Finland had indicated that it was laying the groundwork for talks between the Indonesian government and guerillas who have been fighting a decades-long war for independence.
Indonesia's security minister Widodo Adi Sucipto will lead a high-profile team to Finland this week for the peace talks, an official source said.
But the source said the talks had still to be fully confirmed and was unable to say when the officials would leave or how long they would be in Finland.
Concerns that the conflict could hinder aid efforts in Aceh have prompted the rebels and government to pledge peace, but resistance is expected from Indonesia's military and guerillas on the ground.
Darwis Djeunieb, a commander with the rebel Free Aceh Movement, said the government's failure to follow up its offer for dialogue showed its insincerity.
It is nonsense, nonsense from Indonesia because they continue to say they will talk but there is no contact with our leaders in Sweden, he said, adding that his men would continue to abide by a unilateral ceasefire.
Indonesian military leaders in Aceh, who say their men would only open fire on rebels interfering with relief work or in self-defence, say the talks are a political matter unlikely to loosen their grip on the region.
Efforts towards peace also continued in Sri Lanka, where the last in a group of Norwegian envoys ended a mission after apparently procuring some concessions from the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.
In another development, Indonesia's economics minister Aburizal Bakrie said in an interview yesterday that his country may reject an offer from the Paris Club of creditor nations of a freeze in debt repayments.
Bakrie said a total of US$1.7bil (RM6.4bil) pledged by its regular donors to rebuild tsunami-hit areas of the country may give it the luxury of turning down the Paris Club offer.
We do not need debt moratorium any more, Bakrie was quoted as saying by the Bisnis Indonesia daily.
Bakrie's deputy Mahendra Siregar said that Indonesia, which owes about US$47.8bil (RM181bil) to the Paris Club creditors with US$3.15bil (RM11.9bil) in principal and US$1.36bil (RM5.1bil) in interest due this year, was still considering the offer.
Thailand, which slightly raised its confirmed death toll to 5,384, was preparing for an international meeting that will attempt to take concrete steps to prevent a repeat of the disaster by installing a warning system. AFP
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