India gets thumbs up for relief in Lanka
Nearly 15 years after they were forced to leave Sri Lanka, Indian military personnel are earning kudos for providing timely support to the islanders devastated by the tsunami disaster.
"We are very grateful to India for helping us," Captain Ravi Wijegunaratne, the military attaché at Sri Lanka's high commission here, said. "It (timely help) shows that we are great friends."
He was referring to the assistance provided by at least 1,500 Indian soldiers across the tsunami-hit areas of Sri Lanka. The soldiers, who form part of New Delhi's largest peacetime military deployment, are running kitchens, providing medical assistance to survivors and cleaning up harbours and waterways.
Though a group of US Marines arrived with relief supplies January 10 and instantly overshadowed the Indians, there is a growing realisation among the people of Sri Lanka that it is the Indians who helped them in their time of need.
An Indian Navy official who did not want to be named said: "Everyone pledged millions of dollars in assistance but realisation is slowly dawning in Sri Lanka that only Indians were actually with the people on the ground."
Officials here say the fact that India's armed forces extended help at a time when India itself was hit hard by the December 26 tsunami waves is widely appreciated in Sri Lanka.
Though the tidal waves devastated a strategic airbase at the Car Nicobar Island, killing nearly 100 people, the Indian Air Force (IAF) lost no time in rushing relief to Sri Lanka.
The Indian Navy's hydrographic and diving teams played a crucial role in clearing the Trincomalee and Galle ports, removing sunken boats and debris, and Indian warships with relief materials were the first vessels to enter Galle after operations resumed there.
INS Jamuna, a 46-bed hospital ship, was deployed at Trincomalee port and the IAF flew dozens of sorties to evacuate over 600 people from Galle, Ratmalana and Trincomalee where transport links were snapped by the tsunami.