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DATE=11/8/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=ACEH REFERENDUM (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-255925 BYLINE=PATRICIA NUNAN DATELINE=JAKARTA CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Up to 600-thousand people rallied in Indonesia's northern province of Aceh,(ah-chay) in the largest-ever show of support for an independence referendum. As Patricia Nunan reports from Jakarta, the Acehnese want last August's ballot in East Timor to serve as a precedent for their own vote. TEXT: Chanting "freedom, freedom," hundreds of thousands of people rallied in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, packing the areas around the city's mosque, local parliament and along a river. Witnesses say most of the demonstrators were from villages outside the capital and the crowd included farmers, students and women wearing traditional Muslim shawls. Some demonstrators wore red headbands bearing the word "referendum." Police and security forces remained largely out of sight, and no incidents of violence were reported at the demonstration. A local police commander estimated the crowd to number 600 thousand - - which is roughly 15 percent of the province's total population. It was the largest rally pushing for an independence referendum ever to be held in the province. Separatist rebels from the "Free Aceh Movement" have been fighting for statehood since the 1970's. But when Indonesian troops launched a crackdown on the movement in 1989 the group began to receive more support from ordinary Acehnese. Human rights officials say at least two thousand people have died or disappeared in the 10 years the military has occupied Aceh. Many Acehnese are now looking at the United Nations supervised ballot in East Timor as a precedent for an independence vote of their own. East Timor was granted independence from Indonesia last month, after 24 years of civil war, sparked by the 1975 invasion by Indonesian forces. But Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid says a referendum in Aceh is not going to happen anytime soon. President Wahid says bringing an end to separatist unrest in Aceh is one of the main priorities of his new government. But he says it is too soon to consider whether a referendum should be held. Nevertheless, Mr. Wahid ordered Indonesian troops, sent in to quell the unrest, to be withdrawn from the province. He is also promising a full investigation into the July massacre of more than 50 people, that a government fact-finding team said was committed by Indonesian soldiers. (Signed) NEB/PN/FC/PLM 08-Nov-1999 04:41 AM EDT (08-Nov-1999 0941 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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