Civil wars a pall over relief effort

GALLE: Long-running rebellions cast a shadow yesterday over relief efforts in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, nations badly struck by the tsunami two weeks ago. 

Indonesia's military beefed up security in Aceh, the region worst hit by the Dec 26 earthquake and tsunami, after gunfire erupted in the provincial capital Banda Aceh early in the day. 

There were no casualties, but one policeman said it could have been related to a long-running insurgency in Aceh. 

In Sri Lanka, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the government should use the world's support to heal the country's ethnic divisions and end a civil war with Tamil rebels. 

The government blocked Annan from visiting tsunami-hit areas in the rebel-held north and east of the island on Saturday, citing security concerns. 

“The world wants to help Sri Lanka in the task to recover and rebuild,” he said yesterday. “I hope that Sri Lanka would use the support and the goodwill, not only to recover from this tragedy but as an opportunity to unite for peace. 

The government's two-decade war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels has killed more than 64,000 people but is on hold thanks to a three-year ceasefire. 

Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga said Colombo was reaching out to all parts of the island. 

“We have been sending, the government and international agencies through the government, much relief aid, food and other things to the affected areas, including the north where Tamil Tigers are situated. They have expressed satisfaction,” she told BBC television. 

At least 156,000 people were killed in 13 countries around the Indian Ocean by the tsunami, the most widespread natural disaster in living memory. 

Thousands more are still missing, and hope is thin of finding many alive. 

The gun shots in Banda Aceh raised concerns for the safety of hundreds of Western aid personnel pouring into Aceh province, where almost all of Indonesia's 104,000 deaths occurred. 

World Bank President James Wolfensohn, visiting Sri Lanka, said the body would consider debt relief and could hand out up to US$1.5bil (RM5.7bil) in aid. 

But he cautioned he was concerned about how funds are spent. 

US President George W. Bush urged Americans to keep opening their wallets for tsunami victims. 

Forty nations lost nationals in the catastrophe in addition to the countries swamped by the tsunami.  

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer visited a makeshift mortuary at a temple just north of Khao Lak, in Thailand, where international forensic experts are trying to identify bodies. 

Australian researchers said the Earth was still shaking from the earthquake off Aceh, the most powerful in 40 years. 

“These are not things that are going to throw you off your chair,” said Australian National University researcher Herb McQueen, “but it is certainly above the background level of vibrations that the earth is normally accustomed to.” 

The oscillation was fading and equated to about a millimetre of vertical motion of the earth. US scientists said the quake may have permanently sped up the Earth's rotation, shortening days by a fraction of a second. – Reuters  

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