Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State> Tsunami Disaster &  Tamil Eelam  > Divided Nation - Sri Lanka rebels take up aid effort  Jehangir S. Pocha, Boston Globe

Tsunami Disaster & Tamil Eelam

Divided Nation - Sri Lanka rebels take up aid effort
 Jehangir S. Pocha, Boston Globe
January 5, 2005

KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka -- Members of the Tamil Tigers, separatist rebels who control large swaths of Sri Lanka's north and east, are appealing to international organizations to bypass the central government and send aid directly to the tsunami-devastated regions within their territories, saying they have received little help in the 10 days since the disaster.

The Tigers appear to have taken the initiative in organizing their own relief program, creating refugee camps, and providing comparatively efficient assistance efforts.

Tigers officials say the Asian tsunami killed more than 40,000 people and rendered some 700,000 homeless across territories they govern from this sleepy northern town, which the rebel group calls its capital. If accurate, those figures would mean that the toll in Tamil areas of Sri Lanka accounts for about two-thirds of the country's total deaths.

Yet nine days after the tsunami hit, ''international aid here is limited and no new international [organizations] have set up operations" in Tamil areas, said N. Karkarthigesu, senior Tiger relief coordinator at the Pallai refugee camp 15 miles west of Kilinochchi.

Around him, families who fled their sunken homes and shattered villages sat crowded into unfinished concrete rooms with plastic sheeting for ceilings. Long lines of people waited outside tents that dispensed food, medicine, and clothing, and volunteers worked intensely on various projects across the camp. In one corner men tried to erect a shed, while in another spot women stirred giant metal pots and poured their contents into plastic bags that will be distributed among the refugees.

There is an air of industriousness, and ''without it we'd be dead," said Karkarthigesu. ''Most things you see here we've done ourselves. The government [in Colombo] talks a lot, but we haven't seen a thing from them."

Some international aid workers have said they were surprised by the speed and efficiency with which the Tigers organized relief efforts after the tsunami hit on Dec. 26. While some Sri Lankan authorities appeared to be overcome by a shock-induced inertia for days, the Tigers organized search and rescue operations in the first hours of the disaster, according to refugees.

The Tigers also set up a multi-agency task force of Tiger officials, representatives of the international organizations present in the area, local nonprofit groups, and even some Sri Lankan government officials. This facilitated the quick disposal of bodies, clearing affected areas and setting up more than 35 refugee camps.

''We are safe here," said Maranarayana, 28, a man who came to Pallai two days after his house was swept away. ''We worry for the future, but for now we are OK."

While agencies such as UNICEF and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have been active here for years and have been ferrying substantial amounts of aid to Tamil areas, ''the Sri Lankan government has created all sorts of roadblocks and impediments to aid reaching us," said S. Puleedevan, a senior Tiger leader in Colombo, part of a team trying to negotiate a permanent settlement between the warring sides, which reached a fragile cease-fire more than two years ago.

''Lots of aid that should be coming to us is sitting in their warehouses," Puleedevan said. ''Partly it's the usual corruption and mismanagement. Partly it's ethnic discrimination [because] they are diverting most of the aid to Sinhalese."

Such mutual suspicion and distrust is what created this tiny island's ethnic divide in the first place. Sri Lanka's Sinhalese, who are Buddhists and count the island as their original home, and Hindus, whose ancestors came from southern India, have shared a long history as neighbors. But relations between the two deteriorated after independence from Britain in 1947. More than 1 million Tamils who had been taken to Sri Lanka to work on tea estates by the British in the 1800s were stripped of their nationality and forced to return to India. Those who remained faced increasing discrimination and violence. Civil war erupted in 1983.

Ferocious fighting by the Tamil Tigers, who came to be known for their suicide bomb squads such as the one that assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India in 1989, gave them control of most Tamil areas. Both sides declared a cease-fire in 2002 under international pressure. But negotiations had stalled, and renewed fighting was widely expected when the water struck.

Naathan, 35, a fisherman from Nagarkovil along the Tamil-controlled northern coast, said he was sure the war had started again when he heard a roaring sound rock his village on Dec 26. ''I took my family and ran, which was good because it saved us from the wave," he said. ''Our house is completely destroyed, but I couldn't live with another war."

Yet a war of words is evident. The Sri Lankan government says the Tigers are mismanaging their relief and trying to pin the blame elsewhere. The Tigers answer that the Sri Lankan government is using the crisis to squeeze and discredit them, even at the cost of withholding aid to hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees.

Until the tsunami, there were numerous obstacles to sending aid directly to the Tigers, given that the organization has been declared a terrorist group by both the United States and India, the two largest donors of aid to Sri Lanka. But the US Agency for International Development, the donor arm of the US government, has indicated that it would focus on getting relief to affected people regardless of where they live.

''Events like the one here change history," said Hans Brattskar, the ambassador to Sri Lanka from Norway, whose government has mediated the peace talks. ''The situation today can either bring both parties closer or move them further apart."



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