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 Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were evacuating survivors and pulling bodies from the still-roiling water, villagers and aid workers said.
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.
Sathinathan Senthan, the village mayor of Kallappadu, said boats of the elite Sea Tigers, the LTTE naval arm which 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 remained standing.
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 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.
Both the LTTE and the government have signaled the tsunami could bring them closer together.