Thu, Jan 06, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Tamil Tigers challenge government's aid claims

PROPAGANDA The pro-autonomy guerrillas said the Sri Lankan government was discriminating against areas under rebel control while exaggerating its relief efforts

THE GUARDIAN , COLOMBO

The Tamil Tiger leadership has accused the Sri Lankan government of trying to make political propaganda out of the tsunami relief effort by exaggerating the amount of aid it is sending to Tamil-controlled areas.

In a fierce attack, SP Thamilselvan, the political head of the pro-autonomy guerrillas, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also called Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga "inhumane" for claiming they had lost too many cadres in last week's disaster to be able to resume the armed struggle.

In an interview with The Guardian at the LTTE headquarters in the northern town of Kilinochchi, Thamilselvan said he was rejecting an invitation from Kumaratunga to serve on the all-party taskforce for disaster management which she created last week.

"Since no constructive steps have been taken to help the north, we believe it is a propaganda trick. We think she wants the international community to believe that she is not discriminating against the north. Only a small amount of aid has started arriving here compared to the relief pouring into Colombo airport," he said.

The LTTE has set up two taskforces, which are operating in Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu, a badly affected coastal town where around 3,000 people died. They are recognized to be distributing aid efficiently.

While the LTTE is willing to let the government cooperate locally on relief work, it is not prepared to develop the symbolism of national unity which the president has been pushing. Thamilselvan's comments also undermine hopes expressed by analysts in Colombo that the crisis could reduce the two sides' suspicions and build trust.

"They want to maintain very clearly that they're a separate entity and a state-in-being. Joining the national taskforce would look as though they'd given up those pretensions," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the director of an independent think tank, the Center for Policy Alternatives.

Since a fragile ceasefire began three years ago, UN agencies and foreign NGOs have set up in Kilinochchi. The Tigers are appealing to them to send disaster relief directly.

"A very negligible portion of aid has come from the government. It's our historical experience that this region is not helped, but people expected something better after this disaster," Thamilselvan said.

"If the conventional wisdom is that the LTTE's military and particularly its naval capability has been battered, and military strength is their leverage at the negotiating table, they will have to make hard choices: to negotiate only when they have recouped or do it sooner from a position of relative weakness," Saravanamuttu said.

Harim Peiris, the presidential spokesman in Colombo, rejected the charge that the LTTE area had been neglected. He said that up to Monday night his ministry and the social services ministry had provided Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu with 1,000 tonnes of food for 75,000 homeless people, compared with 65 tonnes for Galle and 91 tonnes for Habantota, two southern cities where 147,000 people have lost their homes.

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