Sri Lankan Tsunami Survivors Await Help

Shimali Senanayake, AP, Feb. 9

BALAPITIYA, Sri Lanka—Weeks after the Asian tsunami destroyed their homes and livelihoods, tens of thousands of hungry Sri Lankans are still pleading for help, accusing government officials of looting international aid and demanding bribes to deliver it.

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In a stunning revelation last week, the government said only 30 percent of those affected by the tsunami had received aid, and set a target of Feb. 10-15 to complete delivery.

Many still await the rice, sugar, noodles, milk powder and biscuits stacked in warehouses. The government has blamed bureaucratic bungling and incompetence. Survivors blame corruption.

In Balapitiya, two local officials have been suspended over accusations of misusing aid, and another for being drunk on duty. Others were being investigated, including some who reportedly demanded bribes from survivors for death certificates for their loved ones.

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In Kalurata, 25 miles south of Colombo, dozens of survivors demonstrated outside the home of a village officer, accusing him of giving food and cash aid only to his supporters.

“Sack the rogue village officer,” read a sign held by one protester. “President! Please ensure equality,” read another.

Leelawathie Mendis, who lives with a relative after her home was damaged by the tsunami, said she has received no food or other aid from the government.

“If you give (the village officer) a bottle of ‘arrack’ you will get state relief,” she said. Arrack is a popular alcoholic drink.

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