|Hundreds protest tsunami aid distribution|
By Associated Press
Friday, February 4, 2005
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Some 400 survivors of Asia's devastating tsunami blocked a Sri Lankan road Friday to protest corrupt aid distribution, and the government suspended two officials for mishandling relief and pledged to investigate 10 others on similar charges.
Despite millions of dollars in aid pouring into Sri Lanka since the Dec. 26 tsunami, 70 percent of survivors haven't received anything because of bureaucratic bungling and incompetence, Sri Lanka's relief operations' chief acknowledged this week.
"The protesters were angry and accused village officers of holding back relief," said H.D Jinesena, a policeman in southern Matara.
The official death toll from the tsunami is at least 159,976, with tens of thousands missing and presumed dead.
Indonesia suffered the highest death toll, with at least 112,279 victims. The United Nations said Friday it will hire up to 30,000 tsunami survivors in the country to accelerate reconstruction, as foreign troops who spearheaded emergency operations began leaving.
Emergency aid operations in Indonesia's Aceh province were winding down with the U.S. aircraft carrier that led aid efforts leaving the disaster zone, and Australia saying its troops would withdraw in a few weeks.
U.N. Development Program spokeswoman Mieke Kooistra said hiring tens of thousands of tsunami victims for reconstruction efforts "will inject money into the economy almost immediately."
"People will receive a daily wage," she said. "The process of collecting waste in a structured way ... will speed up the recovery in damaged areas."
Also Friday, an Indonesian anti-corruption activist detained on allegations of stealing aid was hospitalized after complaining of injuries sustained while in police custody.
Farid Faqih, who had been working for the U.N. World Food Program, had a bruised face and said he was beaten by several military police at an air base in Banda Aceh. An officer has been questioned about the alleged beating.
Faqih's plight, a longtime critic of corruption in the armed forces, has drawn media attention because he recently accused government officials in Aceh of trying to win more aid by inflating the number of refugees in camps.
In Sri Lanka, two village officials were accused of channeling aid to friends who were not affected by the tsunami, said W. Weerakoon, a government administrator in Galle, one of the hardest-hit areas.
The two "have been suspended from work with immediate effect," Weerakoon said, adding 10 other people were being investigated on similar charges after dozens of complaints by victims and security forces.
Head of relief operations, Thilak Ranavirajah, appointed a special task force Thursday to ensure supplies reach all tsunami victims, at least by Feb. 15.
Ranavirajah's admission that aid was failing to reach those in need came as survivors stepped up protests this week saying food rations hadn't arrived.
Norway's ambassador Hans Brattskar, meanwhile, will hold talks Saturday with the Tamil Tiger rebels' political chief, S.P. Thamilselvan, an effort to finalize control over relief efforts in Sri Lanka's Tamil-dominated north and east.
The Tigers began fighting in 1983 to create a separate state for minority Tamils, accusing the country's majority Sinhalese of discrimination. A 2002 cease-fire halted the fighting but subsequent peace talks have been on hold since April 2003 amid rebel demands for autonomy.
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