01/17/2005, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Government and rebels turn tsunami aid to their own benefit

by Danielle Vella

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Government and separatists in Sri Lanka are trying to politically profit from managing foreign tsunami aid, leaving little space for dialogue.

Jehan Perera, an analyst with the Sri Lanka's National Peace Council (NPC), told AsiaNews that "the situation has not changed for the better [after the tsunami], although it is in the best interests of both sides to get along, now more than ever before".

"Right after the Tsunami, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) sought to take political advantage of the situation," Mr Perera explained. "They asked for direct international aid, complaining that the government was not sending anything. But at that time, the government was not sending aid anywhere, north or south".

Within days of the Tsunami, international aid poured into Sri Lanka, enabling the authorities to mobilise and take control of relief operations. However, the government's 'centralised' approach has not turned out to be constructive.

"Since the Tsunami, the government is stronger than ever because of the aid it is receiving. As a result, it is trying to act on its own, and has moved to isolate the LTTE from the international community," Mr Perera said.

If the rebels are excluded, it is very likely that quake survivors in their territory will be left empty-handed.

"Unless the government is able to establish a working relationship with the LTTE," the analyst said, "the prospects of rebuilding the north-east will be bleak."

Even members of the democratic opposition and civil society have been left out of official relief operations, which are exclusively under the control of central government officials, its supporters and elite businessmen.

Relief operations are also in danger of not meeting demands since survivors have not been consulted in how reconstruction funds are to be used.

Mr Perera goes further adding that "it is for affected communities that the aid has come and not for creating a modern and prosperous economy for those unaffected by the Tsunami".

In 20 years, a bloody civil war between government troops and separatist rebels has caused the death of 70,000 people and the displacement of an additional 800,000 impoverishing this island nation.

The NPC is a Sri Lankan organisation dedicated to promoting talks between the two parties to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

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