BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) _ Buoyed by East Timor's newfound independence, thousands of villagers converged on this regional capital Sunday to demand independence for the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Arriving on foot, motorcycles and trucks, pro-independence supporters took shelter in at least 30 mosques in Banda Aceh, the province's capital.

Organizers said Monday's rally was likely to be the biggest show yet of anti-Indonesian sentiment in the province at the northern tip of Sumatra island. On Thursday, at least 50,000 protesters marched in the province.

Over the past decade, the Indonesian military struggled unsuccessfully to wipe out a separatist guerrilla movement that enjoyed wide public support.

The independent streak of Aceh's people dates to their fierce resistance to Dutch colonial rule a century ago.

Its separatists have grown bolder since authoritarian President Suharto was ousted last year and the people of East Timor voted in a U.N.-supervised ballot on Aug. 30 to break away from Indonesia. Indonesia withdrew its troops, but only after some soldiers and their militia allies killed, burned and looted across the former Portuguese colony.

On Sunday, banners hanging from street lamps in Banda Aceh echoed East Timor's calls for a referendum on independence. Drivers and pedestrians donated money to protest organizers who held out cardboard boxes at traffic lights and on street corners.

Last week, Indonesia's newly elected president, Abdurrahman Wahid, expressed understanding of the calls for a referendum, but then suggested a vote was impractical. Some in the government fear that other regions in the archipelago nation also will shun Jakarta's authority.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the chief spokesman for the Indonesian military ruled out a referendum in Aceh because, unlike East Timor, it had been always been part of independent Indonesia.

``A referendum for Aceh is not realistic,'' Maj. Gen. Sudrajat said.

In Banda Aceh, protest organizer Muhamad Nazar said the rally Monday would start at the city's main mosque. At a police barracks, hundreds of riot officers with rattan sticks and shields conducted drills in preparation for the demonstration.

Fearing violence, many shop owners in Banda Aceh planned to close their stores before Monday's rally. Masir Simatupang, who sells rice, spices and fish in a marketplace, said: ``It looks like people have referendum fever.''