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New air hub speeds tsunami relief

SUBANG, Malaysia, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Indonesia said Saturday its death toll from last month's tsunami is now 104,000, as Sumatran rebels reportedly clashed with government troops.

The new fatality figure is 3,000 higher than the previous number, the BBC reported. Overall, the Dec. 26 earthquake and resulting tsunami is believed to have killed 156,000 to 170,000. Also, some 5 million people remain homeless. To date, international pledges of aid now total about $5 billion.

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At least seven were reported dead in clashes between separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement and Indonesian soldiers in a village west of the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said Saturday a new humanitarian air hub at near Malaysia's capital is expected to speed critical assistance to the hundreds of thousands without shelter or sustenance.

The U.N. World Food Program hoped to feed 400,000 people on the western coast of Aceh "in a matter of five, six or seven days," now that the air hub was operational, said Jim Morris.

In Bangkok, officials urged foreign governments to stop discouraging their citizens from visiting, as their tourist money is desperately needed to help Thailand recover economically.

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