- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

From combined dispatches

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Australia and Germany pledged more than $1 billion in tsunami aid yesterday, raising the global tally to more than $3 billion and prompting a senior European official to warn against nations being drawn into a bidding war.

A meeting of world leaders beginning today in Jakarta, Indonesia, will focus on how best to disburse the aid to victims of the Dec. 26 disaster — which killed more than 139,000 people around the Indian Ocean shores.

The United States, which raised to 36 the number of Americans confirmed or presumed dead in the disaster, also promised to send more helicopters, food and clean water to isolated survivors, many of them in the Aceh province, which accounted for about two-thirds of the dead.

The outpouring of generosity seemed at times almost like a bidding war and raised questions about whether rich nations were using the disaster to jockey for influence on the world stage and with hardest-hit Indonesia, which has a wealth of natural resources.

Louis Michel, the European Union commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, urged donors not to engage in one-upmanship. “We have to be careful and not participate in a beauty contest where we are competing to give higher figures,” he said.

But U.N. humanitarian-relief chief Jan Egeland, who riled Washington by complaining that wealthy nations were often “stingy,” said: “I’d rather see competitive compassion than no compassion.”

In Washington, the State Department announced that 20 Americans had been added to the list of dead. Nineteen of the additional victims were in Thailand, and the 20th was in Sri Lanka.

Deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the decision to list the 20 as presumed dead was based on accounts of survivors. “In each of these, there is specific reason to believe these individuals were in harm’s way.”

About 3,500 Americans have not been located, he said. He declined to identify the 36 Americans by name or in any other way, except to say that none was a U.S. official.

In New York, Mr. Egeland praised Washington for doubling to about 90 the number of the helicopters it was contributing to relief efforts, saying the craft were the best way of overcoming washed-away roads and bridges.

He also called on governments and rebel groups in the region not to wreck aid efforts by resuming conflicts. “We need that cease-fire, that peace to hold because if new conflict breaks out, we cannot help the people,” he said.

Mr. Egeland said peace now prevailed in Aceh, there was a cease-fire in parts of Sri Lanka where the separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had been active, and that once-feuding warlords were not fighting in “the better part of Somalia.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will represent the United States at the Jakarta meeting, where world leaders will discuss assistance to tsunami-hit Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives and Malaysia.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called in Jakarta for the leaders to honor their pledges of aid, saying it should be “fresh and additional money, not robbing Peter to pay Paul, pulling it from other crises.”

Seychelles, like Somalia a distant victim of the tsunami, appealed for $9 million to help rebuild roads, bridges and schools.

“Of course, we cannot compare our situation to Asia, but we are looking for just a little bit of money to help us,” said Foreign Ministry principal secretary Sylvestre Radegonde.

In Europe, people from Riga in Latvia to Rome observed three minutes of silence to remember the dead, who included several thousand tourists, many of them Europeans.

Public buildings in Europe flew flags at half-staff, stock exchanges fell silent, crowded railway stations came to a standstill, and television and radio stations broadcast solemn music in memory of the victims.

Mr. Annan was expected to announce a tsunami-related appeal from the United Nations at the Jakarta conference, which also would discuss the possibility of an immediate freeze of debt payments by affected countries.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he believed the Group of Seven industrialized nations would be able to agree on debt relief for Sri Lanka and Indonesia, both of which suffered most from the disaster.

Japan joined other G-7 members Britain, the United States, Canada and France in supporting a debt-payment moratorium, which will be discussed in Jakarta and at a meeting Wednesday of the Paris Club of creditor nations.

Germany raised its aid to tsunami-hit countries to $680 million, while Australian Prime Minister John Howard pledged $765 million over five years to Indonesia.

Indonesia said a half-million people — 80,000 more than earlier estimates — were homeless in Aceh, where the hungry scavenged for food and water and injured people flooded hospitals.

U.N. officials said they were worried that orphaned or lost children might fall prey to gangs bent on selling them into slavery. Children make up a third of the dead, and tens of thousands have been orphaned.

At an orphanage in southern India, 15-year-old Sitha, her sister Sitha Lakshmi, 10, and 8-year-old brother Amitha grappled with the loss of their parents.

“I’m the head of the family now,” Sitha said, holding back tears. “I have to look after them. Mummy wanted them to get educated, and I have to make that happen now.”

The World Health Organization estimated that more than a half-million people were injured and in need of medical care in six nations. Fears grew that diseases such as cholera and malaria would break out among the 5 million displaced.

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