Tsunami Disaster & Tamil Eelam
Military Machine Started Aid within Minutes
Arthur Max, 3 January 2005
Associated Press Report - Kentucky Lexington Herald
Killinochchi, Sri Lanka - In times of crisis,
envy the authoritarians.
Veterans of a long guerrilla war, the Tamil rebels who control
northern Sri Lanka moved with military precision to help victims of
the Indian Ocean tsunami. The speed and efficiency of the massive
humanitarian operation showed an administrative capability that
underscored the rebels' demand for Tamil independence from the
Sinhalese-dominated southern part of Sri Lanka.
Within minutes of the disaster, soldiers of the
for Tamil-Eelam, or LTTE, were evacuating survivors and pulling
bodies from the still-roiling water, said villagers and aid workers.
In a well-practiced drill, squads set up roadblocks to control panic
and prevent looting. Others requisitioned civilian vehicles to move
the injured to hospitals. Many donated blood.
Teams with digital cameras and laptops moved into disaster zones to
photograph the faces of the dead for later identification, then
swiftly cremated or buried the corpses.
Senthan, the village mayor of Kallappadu, said boats of the elite
Sea Tigers, the LTTE naval arm that had a base at the neighboring
town of Mullaitivu, arrived even as the tsunami floodwaters were
receding. Other sailors arrived on bicycles, he said. "Until now,
they are still there," Senthan told a reporter in the refugee camp,
where he was trying to hold the grieving survivors together. Half
his village of 2,200 people was killed, he said, and not a building
By the end of the first day, the first refugee centers were set up.
Women in the Tigers' camouflage uniforms began registering the
survivors and recording the relief items they received -- ensuring
no one got more than he or she should.
"They applied a very efficient military machine. All they had to do
was give the command," said Reuben Thurairajah, a British doctor who
watched the maneuver in amazement.
Meanwhile, in the south, the government was struggling to cope while
politicians argued over who was in charge. From the field came
isolated reports of corruption and hijacking of relief trucks.
Thurairajah, a volunteer public health officer who was in the area
several weeks before the tsunami, said the Tigers were scrupulous in
ensuring equal distribution of aid.
"If they have 100 bars of soap and 800 people, they'd rather not
give it to anyone," he said.
The tsunami brought an equal measure of tragedy to the Tamils of the
north and the Sinhalese of the south. Nearly 30,000 people have been
killed, a crushing toll for a nation of only 19 million.
Yet that is less than half the number of casualties from this
island's 20-year ethnic war.
Tamil nationalists have been fighting for independence for the north
and east, where the minority group is concentrated, since 1983.
A shaky cease-fire has held since February 2002, but peace talks
broke down more than a year ago over the Tiger's demand to have a
recognized self-governing authority while a final settlement is
"Both sides are acutely aware that the way the relief efforts are
being handled can affect their political status," said Paikiasothy
Saravanamuttu, head of the Center for Policy Alternatives.
The Tigers are likely to showcase their smooth handling of aid as
they argue for autonomous authority.