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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 January, 2005, 06:01 GMT
Asia's tsunami death toll soars
Volunteers clearing away bodies in Banda Aceh
Officials in Aceh say they are still removing about 3,500 corpses a day
The number of people known to have died in last month's Asian tsunami has reached 220,000.

The toll increased dramatically after Indonesian officials announced that more than 166,000 had been confirmed dead in their country alone.

The latest figure is more than 50,000 higher than the previous total issued by Indonesia's health ministry.

Most of the deaths came from the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, which were directly hit by the tsunami.

UN and Indonesian officials have said the total number of deaths may never be known.

    In other developments:

  • At an international disaster conference in Kobe, Japan, the United Nations humanitarian chief says the UN should take the lead in creating a tsunami early-warning system in the Indian Ocean

  • India unveils a $628m reconstruction package for mainland areas hit by the tsunami

  • Sri Lanka's president launches a reconstruction drive worth $3.5bn

  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says that at least one million people have lost their livelihoods in Sri Lanka and Indonesia alone and calls for action to create jobs.

Bodies recovered

The director of the Indonesian ministry's health affairs department, Doti Indrasanto, said the number of fatalities soared after health officials declared that thousands of people previously listed as missing were dead.

The ministry said it had slashed the number of missing from 77,000 to 6,245.

"We have cross-checked this information and it is correct," Mr Idrasanto said.

US soldiers make a chain to load relief goods into a Seahawk helicopter en route for a relief mission in the remote areas of the Aceh province at the military airport in Banda Aceh, 14 January 2005
Aid workers are struggling to get adequate supplies to some areas

The true toll might never be known.

"Perhaps we will never know the exact scale of the human casualties," he said.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey in Aceh says that in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, more than 14% of the population is confirmed dead.

She says there are still local districts that have not reported any figures at all, making it seem inevitable that the final death toll will be higher still.

Officials retrieving decomposed bodies in Aceh said about 3,500 corpses were being removed each day - nearly four weeks after the disaster.

About 800,000 people were made homeless in Aceh and North Sumatra as a result of the disaster.

Floods slow relief

Relief officials said floods caused by heavy rains were delaying lorries sending supplies to Aceh's provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

Province on the north-western tip of Sumatra
Higher percentage of Muslims than other parts of Indonesia
Gam rebels have fought decades-long separatist campaign
Internationally-brokered peace deal brokered in Dec 02 but collapsed in May 03
Year-long military crackdown weakened Gam, but failed to capture senior members

"Flooding is a bigger problem than security," a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Chris Lom, told the AFP news agency.

He was referring to fears of renewed clashes between Aceh separatists and Indonesian armed forces.

On Wednesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said he hoped to hold formal peace talks with the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) rebels later this month - the first since May 2003.

The Gam has been waging a rebellion against the Jakarta authorities for nearly three decades.

But in the wake of the tsunami, both sides agreed to an informal ceasefire to help ease the distribution of aid.

Details of the agreement in Kobe



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