Sunday, November 7, 1999 Published at 21:51 GMT
Acehnese demand independence
Demonstrators threatened to declare independence unilaterally
Up to a million people have rallied in the Indonesian province of Aceh to demand a referendum on independence.
Demonstrators threatened to declare independence unilaterally if they were not granted a referendum.
Organisers described the event as a general assembly of the Acehnese people. The local Red Cross estimated the crowd at up to one million.
The demonstration, co-ordinated by the Aceh Referendum Information Centre (SIRA), began with a giant flag proclaiming "Referendum" being raised on the mosque's flagpole.
Speakers condemned the Indonesian Government's brutal treatment of the province over the past decade.
They were unwilling to trust the assurances of the newly-elected democratic government in Jakarta, and said only a complete break from Indonesia would be acceptable.
Rally organisers stressed that their strategy was different to that of the armed Free Aceh Movement guerrillas in the mountains.
The crowd was constantly reminded that the struggle should be non-violent.
The chairman of the rally's organising committee, Muhammad Nazar, called on participants not to let "provocateurs" incite them to engage in "actions that will only harm us and our struggle".
The security forces, whose reputation has been sullied by human rights abuses in the past decade, stayed largely out of sight.
The regional police commander said he was happy to allow pro-independence protests to continue as long as they remained peaceful.
There were no reports of violence at the rally, but more than 100 prisoners broke out of a city jail during the demonstration. Police shot and wounded one inmate. Around 15 prisoners have been recaptured.
Monday's rally was the latest in a series of recent pro-referendum demonstrations in Aceh. At least 50,000 protesters marched in the province on Thursday.
Indonesia's new president, Abdurrahman Wahid, has offered to negotiate with the pro-independence leaders.
The BBC's Jonathan Head, who is in Banda Aceh, says Aceh will not accept anything less than full independence from a state they say has brought them nothing but poverty and suffering.
However, Jakarta is keen to retain Aceh for its lucrative oil and gas industry. And the government cannot risk granting independence for fear that Indonesia itself will fall apart.