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Violence mars tsunami recovery in Sri Lanka

While the Sinhala dominated south has picked up the pieces and moved on, the Tiger-held NE, has been left pretty much on its own.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2006 12:43 IST

Church and temple bells rang across Sri Lanka today for the victims of the 2004 tsunami but commemoration ceremonies in rebel-held areas, which were the worst hit, were deliberately low-key.

While the Sinhalese dominated south has picked up the pieces and moved quickly to rebuild, the war-torn, Tamil Tiger-controlled northeast, which took the brunt of the waves, has been left pretty much on its own.

A resurgence in Sri Lanka's long-running civil war this year has added to the sense of desperation in the east, with thousands of Tamils including tsunami survivors fleeing homes and camps for the second time in two years.

"There isn't much to show for by way of reconstruction, there isn't much to commemorate when you have barely moved an inch," said a Western aid official involved in the tsunami relief.

On Monday, Tiger rebels detonated a mine in Jaffna in the north, killing three soldiers.

Another group of rebels also attacked troops in Jaffna, wounding nine, the military said on Tuesday.

It also said troops found the bodies of five guerrillas killed in the fighting.

SP Puleedevan, the head of the peace secretariat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam told the agency by telephone from the de facto rebel capital of Kilinochchi that there was going to be a tsunami ceremony but he did not give any details.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake travelled to Galle and nearby Paraliya in the south for ceremonies to remember the more than 35,000 people who died in the country's worst natural disaster.

Sri Lankans observed two minutes of silence at the precise moment the tsunami struck two years ago.

Traffic came to a halt and bells rang out. Some people also lit candles.

The government says that 98 per cent of the tsunami reconstruction in the country's south is complete, amounting to nearly 25,000 houses.

But in the east less than half of the planned 60,000 houses have been completed, while in the Tamil Tiger-held north -- cut off from the rest of the island because of the conflict -- less than 30 per cent of houses for tsunami-displaced are finished.

"While the tsunami affected Sinhala people are resettling in new homes, the worst affected Tamils are being chased even from their temporary shelters," the LTTE said in a lengthy statement issued on the eve of the tsunami anniversary.

It accused the government of deliberately neglecting Tamils who it said made up two-thirds of those affected by the tsunami.

"The government treated the tsunami as a welcome means of destroying the Tamil people," the LTTE said.

But aid agencies said both the military and Tigers hamper access to conflict areas, and artillery duels have made it too dangerous for aid workers to operate, forcing many organisations to shelve or abandon tsunami projects altogether.

"The tsunami could have been a turning point in the conflict, if both parties had agreed on an aid-sharing pact," said the Western aid official.

First Published: Dec 26, 2006 12:43 IST