Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Distrust between Sri Lanka, Rebels Hampers Tsunami Aid ; Villagers in the Rebel North Tell the Army to Leave, While NGOs Try to Stay out of Politics

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Distrust between Sri Lanka, Rebels Hampers Tsunami Aid ; Villagers in the Rebel North Tell the Army to Leave, While NGOs Try to Stay out of Politics

Article excerpt

No one knows who lighted the fire. Less than 48 hours after the tsunami hit northern Sri Lanka, a school sheltering hundreds of displaced people burned to the ground.

No lives were lost, but the incident marked a turning point in an unprecedented Army effort to distribute disaster relief in an area long sympathetic to Tamil Tigers separatists. Villagers blamed the Army for setting the blaze - this after they had rebuffed offers of aid and told the soldiers to leave their camp.

In Sri Lanka, the tsunami did not fully wash away old suspicions hardened by decades of ethnic conflict. The army quickly learned that even at such a time of great need, many people prefer to get help from their own kind. After three days the Army retreated from refugee camps on the Jaffna peninsula. Similarly, international aid groups have hit snags as they try to navigate the delicate political situation here.

"Many lives have been lost in this region as a direct result of the Army's role in the past, and too much bitterness," says Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam, who has lived in Jaffna for the last decade. "So naturally the people prefer the civilian help or [Tamil Tiger] help."

More than 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war between Tamil separatists in the north and east and the Sinhalese majority in the south. Around 30,000 people are said to have been killed in Sri Lanka by the tsunami.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as the Tigers are formally known, have a legendary organizational capability. They have been credited by nongovernmental organizations as well as local people for having come to the people's help within an hour of the tsunami waters receding.

"I lost three of my four children, but the LTTE got me the bodies of all three back even though it took two days for them to find all of them," says S. Erudaya Rani at one Jaffna camp. "They also had rations and food to give us immediately."

According to the United Natons, About 2,500 people are dead and missing on the Jaffna peninsula, while about 1,647 are injured. The figures increase as you go farther down the east coast - also LTTE- held areas.

Political countercharges

There are complaints that government aid took three days to arrive from the south to help the thousands whose homes and lives were washed away from the 12 miles of the affected Jaffna coastline.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga contradicted the criticism saying earlier in a statement: "It is unfortunate that the LTTE and its agents are now carrying on a campaign [that says] LTTE-held areas do not receive disaster aid from the government.... The people in the affected areas of Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mallaitivu have in fact been receiving more government assistance than those affected in the south," she said naming three northern areas where most of Sri Lanka's 3. …

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