01/24/2005, 00.00
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Tsunami reconstruction begins between hopes and delays

International aid opens the door to talks between government and rebels in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Rome (AsiaNews/Agencies) – As reconstruction gets underway, life in tsunami-stricken Asia is slowly getting back to normal. The death toll now stands at about 234,000 and international aid is forcing governments and rebels in Indonesia and Sri Lanka to talk to one another.

In Indonesia, the government said yesterday that the emergency situation in tsunami-ravaged Aceh is now nearly over. Land communications between the province and the rest of the country have been restored and foreign troops should gradually be replaced by civilians.

"The emergency stage is almost behind us, so militaries will no longer be as effective in contributing. Civilians are needed," Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab said. "We are opening up isolated areas using land transport, so we don't need any more helicopters," he added.

In Helsinki, the office of former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari said that this week he would mediate talks between the Indonesian government and the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) over a possible truce to rebuild the area.

In Sri Lanka, too, international aid for tsunami survivors is giving the central government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) an opportunity to talk.

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader who was initially thought to have died in the tsunami, expressed his group's willingness to join a common programme with the government to provide relief to the tsunami victims in the country's east and north-east areas.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga's 'Action plan for rebuilding the nation' is also taking shape.

The symbolic launch of the plan occurred in Hambantota, 230 kilometres south-east of Colombo, where the President laid the first brick of a new housing project.

The plan includes rebuilding and re-planning roads, rail tracks, bus transport, electricity, water supply and sanitation, telecommunication services, ports, education and health sector, social services, housing and township development, industrial sector, tourism environment and judicial institutions.

Each tsunami-affected family is expected to receive 5,000 rupees (US$ 50) as well school material and uniforms and people who lost their homes will not have to pay their electrical, telephone and water bills.

To meet reconstruction needs, the construction industry has increased production of bricks and cement.

To help the tourism industry, the government is lowering taxes on hotels.

Last week, the first post-tsunami cruise ship carrying 626 German passengers arrived in the country.

The situation of the displaced is also slowly improving. More than half—437,000—of the 800,000 displaced people registered in refugee camps have now gone home to rebuild.

In Thailand, the state-run Tourist Authority of Thailand is already launching a campaign under the banner 'Andaman Smiles Again' to encourage foreign tourists to visit the tsunami-affected Andaman coastal towns of the south. Most of the less affected beaches have been cleaned and have already been opened for a week.

Private investors are offering loans to hotel owners to start up again.

By contrast, things are moving more slowly in India, where the government has refused foreign aid.  

Japan, which had offered 10,000 free fishing boats, was turned down. The Indian government refused the offer, Sharad Pawar, the Union Minister in charge of relief and rehabilitation, "because we do not need any country's charity".

Instead, he said that of the 40,000 boats destroyed, 25,000 were wooden boats or vallams without motors and too old-fashioned. Those who want more modern boats will be offered 50,000 rupees (€ 860, US,100) as well as a loan of 100,000 rupees.

The Union government is also planning to help state governments draw up plans to build three-room houses for those who were made homeless by the tsunami. (LF)

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See also
NGO cries foul as Paris Club set to penalise tsunami-stricken countries
Brotherhood between Christians and Muslims reborn in post-tsunami Aceh
Fishermen most affected by the tsunami
Tsunami, a sign that it is time for people to change
PIME's tsunami reconstruction campaign raised almost 600,000 euros


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