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Tsunami Toll Jumps By 5,000

Indonesia increased its tsunami death toll by 5,000 Sunday, raising the overall count of people who died in the Dec. 26 disaster to more than 162,000. The nation's defense minister toned down his country's reluctance to host foreign troops helping in relief efforts.

The additional deaths came from the village of Calang on the northwestern coast of Sumatra. The island has counted more than 115,000 dead, including those killed in the Indian Ocean earthquake that generated the killer waves. More than 12,000 people remained missing, according to Indonesia's Social Affairs Ministry.

The flow of relief supplies into northern Sumatra was expected to double with the opening of a second airport Sunday, as United Nations teams moved deeper into the interior to assess the plight of villagers who fled the coastline.

The damaged airfield at Sabang Island, just off the northern tip of Sumatra, was back in operation with military C-130 transports from several nations scheduled to arrive in the coming days, U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. John Bernard said.

The airport at Banda Aceh, the hub of the international aid effort, has become congested over the past two weeks with aircraft rushing aid to the western coastline of Sumatra.

A Japanese medical team arrived in Sumatra's Aceh province Sunday to prepare for their military's biggest overseas relief effort. Japan plans to send about 1,000 troops to Aceh this month for a three-month stay, said Col. Takeshi Moriichi, commander of the military's medical corps.

The U.S. military already has 2,000 Marines ferrying aid workers and transporting food to victims in Aceh, where most of the devastation occurred. Overall, about 15,000 U.S. military personnel are involved in the relief effort in southern Asia.

Hundreds of troops from Australia, Singapore, Germany and other nations also are helping the relief effort, along with U.N. agencies and scores of nongovernmental aid groups.

Several Indonesian officials, including the vice president, have expressed unease about the large number of foreign troops, indicating their desire to see them leave by March 26. Security appeared to be a big part of the concern. Aceh is home to separatist rebels who have been fighting the central government for years.

But Indonesia's defense minister said Sunday there was no deadline for the troops to be out.

"We would like to emphasize that March 26 is not a deadline for involvement of foreign military personnel in the relief effort," Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono said after meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in Jakarta.

Wolfowitz, who also toured the disaster-hit Sumatran coast during his visit, has voiced pride in the American aid operation but said Washington wanted to hand over relief work to Indonesia and other affected nations as soon as possible.

In the meantime, he hinted he believes improving military links would help bolster democracy in Indonesia under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"We need to think about how we can strengthen this newly elected democratic government ... to help build the kind of defense institution that will ensure in the future that the Indonesian military, like our military, is a loyal function of a democratic government," said Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Jakarta.

In Sri Lanka, U.N. World Food Program chief James T. Morris met with the political chief of the Tamil Tiger rebels, S.P. Thamilselvan, to discuss distribution of food to 90,000 people in the rebel-controlled north. The government initially opposed Morris' visit.

"We are not involved in politics. We are involved in seeing that people are fed," said Morris, who earlier visited the badly hit southern port city of Galle.

Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin was in Thailand, where he met members of a Canadian police forensic squad helping identify the dead in beach towns leveled by the killer waves.

"It's very emotional on the one hand, but on the other hand we must really recognize all those — Thai and Canadian — who have worked so hard here," he said.

The leaders of Sweden, Norway and Finland arrived in Bangkok on Sunday to thank the nation and its people for helping care for thousands of Nordic tourists who were caught up in the turmoil.

With tens of thousands homeless, aid groups stepped up campaigns to prevent malaria, measles, cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other diseases in teeming refugee camps across the disaster zone.

Tetanus has been detected in 67 people in Aceh province with the number expected to rise, said the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders. Tetanus has a mortality rate of up to 25 percent.

More aid teams were headed to the ravaged coastal city of Meulaboh, where doctors will establish a mobile clinic, said Roberta Rossi, a spokeswoman for USAID.

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand observed a minute's silence for tsunami victims. Bells tolled and flags flew at half staff.

"Three weeks ago, the world began to watch in horror as a catastrophe without precedent in recent times unfolded around the Indian Ocean," said New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The aftermath of the "catastrophe has also seen human beings reach out to support each other on an unprecedented scale," she said.

"Across religions, faiths, and beliefs, across ethnicities and national boundaries, the common humanity of people has shone through at this time of great adversity for so many."

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