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The BBC's Richard Galpin
"The police have confirmed 14 deaths"
 real 56k

Friday, 10 November, 2000, 15:55 GMT
Death toll rises before Aceh rally
Dead body in Aceh
Reports say troops deliberately fired on civilians
At least 25 people have died in Indonesia's Aceh province in the run-up to a massive pro-independence rally, despite a call from Jakarta for troops to refrain from force.

There are still people wearing official [military] uniforms wandering around... They were once soldiers but now they are making a mess...

President Wahid
The deaths have occurred in the last three days in clashes as security forces tried to stop people pouring into the provincial capital Banda Aceh for this weekend's two-day rally.

A local human rights organisation told the BBC that it had confirmed at least 25 deaths, saying most died when troops opened fire on people refusing to return home.

Some activists are reporting higher death tolls, and one told the BBC that the real total could be more than 100. One report said troops fired at a packed mosque in Tualang Cut area.

Acehnese by the city's main mosque
Acehnese arrive in trucks by the city's main mosque
The authorities have confirmed only 14 deaths.

The army's Colonel Syarunfudin Tippe denied the allegations that troops had deliberately fired on civilians.

He said only 20 people had been killed in exchanges of fire with his troops.

City sealed off

By late Friday, an estimated 100,000 people had converged on the Banda Aceh area, but the vast majority had not managed to enter the city.

I will not let Acehnese ... be shot. I'm in charge of the military and police. Do they think I'm afraid to fire them?

President Wahid
Police have set up road blocks in the streets leading up to the Baiturrahman grand mosque - the focal point of the rally - and are meticulously checking identity cards and vehicle documents.

At the mosque square, crowds shouted "freedom" as fiery speeches were given.

The rally marks the first anniversary of a massive rally that called for a vote on independence.

A policeman searches a man at a checkpoint in Banda Aceh
A policeman searches a man at a checkpoint in Banda Aceh
But this year's main gathering - not expected until Saturday - is expected to draw smaller crowds because of the alleged blockade.

In Jakarta, hundreds of Acehnese have rallied outside the Dutch embassy to press for the United Nations to stop the violence in the province.

Truce endangered

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid has accused rogue soldiers of stirring up trouble in Aceh.

"There are still people wearing official TNI [military] uniforms wandering around [in Aceh]. They were once soldiers but now they are making a mess," he told a Muslim gathering in East Java.

Acehnese rally in Jakarta
Hundreds of Acehnese also rallied in Jakarta
He has called for troops to allow the rally to go ahead peacefully, saying violence could destroy the truce between the government and the separatist "Free Aceh" movement called in June.

"I'm in charge of the military and police," the president said.

"Do they think I'm afraid to fire them?"

Last year's rally marked the high point of the pro-independence campaign.

But that momentum was soon lost, partly because Jakarta promised wide-ranging autonomy to provinces with strong separatist movements.

In theory this would resolve one of the main grievances, with the government allowing Aceh to take most of the revenue from its oil and gas fields.

The violence which started in the 1970s has left thousands dead.

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See also:

10 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Violence feared at Aceh rally
25 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Indonesia needs Aceh
13 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Indonesia's fragile archipelago
05 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aceh rebels fingered over Jakarta blasts
25 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aceh truce extended
20 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid marks tricky first year
08 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Acehnese demand independence
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