Helping disaster victims a new battle for Tamil Tigers

The Guardian

Mullaittivu, January 4:

Faced with some of the worst destruction in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger guerrillas who have been running an armed struggle for autonomy for over 20 years find themselves facing a new battle. They have to house, feed, and comfort thousands of traumatised and homeless people who look to them for leadership after last week’s tsunami. They also want to convince foreign governments and the big UN agencies that they are more effective at bringing relief than the mainly Sinhalese Sri Lankan government.

The centre of the new battle is Mullaittivu, a town which once had 7,000 residents as well as the headquarters of the Sea Tigers, as the guerrillas’ navy is called. Last week’s tsunami took the lives of 3,000 people and destroyed the base from which guerrilla boats operated along the coast. Excavators manned by Sea Tigers were toing and froing through the ruins yesterday, moving debris so that villagers can retrieve whatever is left in their homes. Over 30,000 homeless people from along the coast area now live in camps. Aid has come from several sources. The nerve centre of the aid effort is a stage at the edge of the playing field, where the Mullaittivu task force has lists of exactly what supplies are needed in which camp.

It is an impressive example of how the Tigers and the government can work together at the local level. The government agent in Kilinochchi has appointed staff to two Tiger-led task forces. “It’s very efficient,’’ said Penny Brune, local UNICEF head. A government official in Kilinochchi praised the Tigers for their cooperation.