Tigers want troops withdrawn

COLOMBO: Proxies of the Tamil Tiger rebels yesterday demanded the withdrawal of Sri Lankan soldiers from tsunami relief camps in north-eastern regions amid increasing tension over the distribution of foreign aid pouring into the battered island. 

The demand was made by R. Sampanthan, spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) political party, in a letter to President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the TamilNet website reported. 

The TNA MPs are widely regarded as proxies of the Tamil Tigers, who on Wednesday accused the government of blocking aid to relief camps in the north-eastern areas they control. 

NEEDING CARE: One-month-old Mohameed Fahai crying in the arms ofhis father at a camp in Galle, Sri Lanka yesterday. — Reuterspic

“The armed forces taking over the management of the welfare camps in the north-east would be counterproductive,” Sampanthan wrote. 

“It would destabilise all arrangements hitherto made at the district level in the region to address the severe consequences of the calamity,” he added, calling on the president to withdraw the soldiers. 

The government on Wednesday picked local military commanders to coordinate relief operations with various government agencies after allegations supplies were not getting to the needy. 

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam accused the military of “invading” welfare camps and said it was blocking tsunami relief aid to thousands of Tamils in the embattled northern and eastern regions. 

The president's office denied the claims yesterday, describing them in a statement as “unfortunate.” 

Initially, there were reports of cooperation between government forces and Tamil Tigers in dealing with the immediate aftermath of the disaster but tensions are resurfacing. 

The two sides have observed a truce since February 2002 but Norwegian-backed peace talks have been on hold since April 2003.  

Despite the deadlock in negotiations, both have pledged to respect the ceasefire. 

Sri Lanka's death toll from the Dec 26 tsunamis has risen to 30,513, the government said yesterday, while the bodies of two foreigners killed in the disaster were found on the east coast of the island. 

Another 3,870 people were still missing, while the number of people displaced by the catastrophe had dropped sharply to 603,881 from a previous 835,028, according to government figures. 

The number of people in camps for the displaced had dropped as some were leaving to stay with relatives or going home after having restored their damaged houses, said Tara de Mel, director of the government's disaster management organisation. – AFP  

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