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Interview: Disaster may not bring rebels to talks
[January 4, 2005]

By Ravi R. Prasad

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga is skeptical about the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam restarting the peace talks after suffering a devastating blow from the tsunami. 

Contrary to reports in the media that the disaster that struck on Dec. 26 could pave the way for peace in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, where rebels in Aceh have also been badly hit, President Kumaratunga said it was unlikely that the LTTE would come for talks because of the disaster. 

In an interview with United Press International at her Presidential Palace in the capital Colombo, President Kumaratunga described the current situation and talked about the proposed reconstruction efforts. 

Q. Do you think that the disaster will bring the two warring sides together? Will the Tamil Tigers now consider talking peace with the government? 

A. I cannot read the minds of the LTTE. I don't know (if) they will come because of a disaster; they will come only if they think they can get what they want, nothing else. So what they will decide about the peace process, I don't know. But at the moment, they are cooperating and permitting the government to do the relief work for the people in those areas.

Q. Would you travel to the areas controlled by the LTTE?

A. A little bit of Jaffna is affected, and that is about the only area I could visit. Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi (districts) are 100 percent LTTE controlled, and they don't like anybody coming to help. They chase people away. ... Sinhalese people who took lorry loads of food were turned away by the LTTE. The Tigers told these people that they did not want their help. 

Q. The LTTE has accused the government of practicing discrimination. Guerrillas have claimed that the government was sending more relief supplies to the south than the north. Is that correct?

A. The Tamil Tigers are cooperating very well in the relief efforts, and we are sending in tons and tons of food into the LTTE-held areas as well as the others. Jaffna, Kilinocnchi and Mullaitivu, which are the three districts out of the five in the north that have been badly affected, we have sent up to two days ago 2,000 metric tons of basic food items alone. That is not counting the medicines and the medical doctors, (and) equipment that we sent there, like mats and clothing. 

And the entire south, the three districts of the south that have been very badly affected, many more people have died in the south, about five times or six times more than Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi. To the south we have sent only 180 metric tons of food. 

Q. How much time would the country need to recover from this disaster?

A. Six months.

Q. Is it possible to send all these people who have been displaced back to their homes in six months?

A. That is what we are planning for. For the last five days we have been planning about this, the reconstruction effort -- while sending immediate relief measures that are required by the people. I think we can do it, but what is going to take much longer is recovering the people, recovering from the trauma. 

Q. What is being done for trauma care?

A. We need trauma counseling. We don't have trained people here. Very few are here. We have already sending small teams to some places, but we are now training some people. Emergency (training) is being given to doctors to go out and do this. We have also asked for international assistance for that. 

Q. You have been quoted as saying that the country needs at least $1 billion for reconstruction. Where will you get all this money from?

A. We have been offered lot of assistance. The international community has come up with magnificent generosity. I must talk about India, which was the first country to send us help within 24 hours. Medical teams, helicopters, ships, boats, lots of other things, food items came from there. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called me three days later to inform us that India will be giving us $25 million for reconstruction. We appreciate this hugely because India has also been affected. While dealing with the same problem, the Indian government has offered us this help. This is very much appreciated.






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Last Updated Date: November 25, 2004 .


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FEATURE: Interview: Disaster may not bring rebels to talks