Mon, Jan 24, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Norwegians mediate Sri Lankan aid

DISPUTE Norway's foreign minister is trying to cut through the red tape of fair aid delivery by meeting with both the government and guerrillas

AP , Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Tamil children, victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami, look on, at a relief camp at Vidyanada College in the northern rebel -controlled town of Mullativu, Sri Lanka last week. Around the Indian Ocean, countries hit hard by last month's tsunami are struggling with how best to care for the tens of thousand of children left without homes, without schools and in thousands of tragic cases, without parents.

PHOTO: AP

Norway's foreign minister -- mediating between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels to ensure fair tsunami relief in Tiger-held areas -- met with Sri Lanka's prime minister yesterday, a day after holding talks with the top guerrilla leader.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Norway's Foreign Minister Jan Petersen "had very good discussions and the prime minister thanked Norway for assisting Sri Lanka at this critical time," said Rajapakse's secretary, Lalith Weeratunga.

Weeratunga did not go into details about any aid discussions.

With Norway's encouragement, the rebels and the government are discussing creation of a joint body to oversee aid distribution in rebel-held northeastern areas, home to most of Sri Lanka's 3.2 million minority ethnic Tamils.

Bureaucracy

Tamil Tiger peace negotiator Anton Balasingham, after meeting with Petersen on Saturday, said the joint body would aim to dispel rebel concerns that aid was being held up by "bureaucracy, corruption or political intrigues."

The guerrillas have repeatedly accused the government of obstructing aid deliveries to rebel-controlled areas in this island nation's north and east.

Allegations Denied

The government has denied the allegations, saying it was going out of its way to make sure rebel-held zones get their fair share.

The Dec. 26 tsunami killed at least 31,000 in Sri Lanka, with some estimates ranging beyond 38,000. About 1 million were displaced.

The separatist Tamil Tigers fought the Sri Lankan army to a standstill from 1983 until Norway successfully brokered cease-fire in 2002.

The truce had appeared increasingly fragile in the weeks before the tsunami.

Also yesterday, Rajapakse -- a devout Buddhist -- asked Norway for help in rebuilding religious places destroyed by the tsunami.

"Mr. Petersen said his government will provide assistance for this purpose," Weeratunga said.

Demographically, most of Sri Lanka's majority ethnic Sinhalese are Buddhists, while most Tamils are Hindus.

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