Envoys try to resolve aid dispute
Sun., Jan. 23, 2005
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka — Norwegian envoys met with government officials and Tamil Tiger rebels Saturday to discuss ways to oversee distribution of tsunami aid after rebels claimed that supplies were being held up by “bureaucracy, corruption or political intrigues.”
Delegates at a U.N. conference in Japan, meanwhile, adopted a plan to reduce casualties and damage caused by natural calamities in response to the Dec. 26 earthquake-triggered tsunami that slammed into Asian and African coastlines.
But the plan isn’t legally binding and doesn’t set specific targets. The conference, however, did rally support and raise money for a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean.
Death tolls from the disaster have varied widely, from about 158,000 to 221,000 across 11 nations.
Indonesian Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab said that the huge discrepancy between tallies given by two government agencies stemmed from different ways of incorporating numbers of the missing into the death toll. Indonesia’s death count ranges from 110,229 to 166,320.
Shihab said the government hoped to reconcile the differing figures.
“The real number nobody knows — except God,” he said from Banda Aceh.
Speaking after a meeting with Norwegian diplomats in northern Sri Lanka, chief Tamil Tiger peace negotiator Anton Balasingham said the three sides discussed creating a joint body that would ensure that aid is distributed fairly. At least 31,000 Sri Lankans were killed in the tsunami and about 1 million were displaced.
The guerrillas have repeatedly accused the government of obstructing aid deliveries to northern and eastern parts of the island nation, parts of which are under rebel control. The government has denied the allegations, saying it was bending over backward to give the rebel zones their fair share.
At issue is whether the rebels can receive aid directly from overseas donors, underscoring their demand for an independent homeland. The government says aid disbursement should be centralized to make sure the process is fair.
Balasingham quoted top rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran as telling the Norwegians that “he wanted the (relief) assistance to be distributed equally and that the affected people must receive the aid directly without the interference of bureaucracy, corruption or political intrigues.”
A resumption of stalled peace talks aimed at ending Sri Lanka’s separatist conflict was not discussed, Balasingham said, adding that Tamil political objectives had not changed.
The Tamil Tigers fought the Sri Lankan army to a standstill between 1983 and 2002. The Norwegians brokered a truce in 2002 which has largely held, but it appeared increasingly fragile in the weeks before the tsunami.
Hopes that the disaster would bring the two adversaries back to the negotiating table have faded amid bickering over aid deliveries.
With billions of dollars of aid pouring into tsunami-hit areas, Indonesia again reassured donors on Saturday that their money would go toward recovery efforts and not be siphoned off by corrupt officials.
One step announced by Shihab was that foreign governments could designate specific projects they wanted to fund.
Foreign governments and international agencies have pledged around $4 billion in aid to the region. Indonesia, regularly listed as one the world’s most corrupt countries, is expected to get the largest chunk.
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