- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

The widespread destruction, hunger and potential outbreaks of disease left in the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami in Asia have pushed rebels in the region to call a truce in their decades-long wars.

The fighters’ decision to lay down their arms in two of Asia’s brutal civil wars — in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the worst affected countries — will be critical to the effective delivery of desperately needed food, water and medical help to survivors of the catastrophe.

“It makes all the difference in the world when we can do our work in a peaceful, secure environment,” said Jim Morris, executive director of the World Food Program.

“I am told that the parties to the conflict in Indonesia have said they will respect the need for the humanitarian community to do its work, and will back away from differences for a period of time,” Mr. Morris told The Washington Times.

“I am hopeful they will honor the commitment,” he said.

Guerrilla and government forces have been battling each other for decades in both Sri Lanka and the province of Aceh in Indonesia’s Sumatra island, with thousands of civilians routinely dying in the crossfire.

In the aftermath of the tidal waves that crashed over Sri Lanka’s coastal villages and killed more than 27,000 people, the Tamil Tiger rebels that control the northern parts of the island nation south of India accepted a government offer of aid and pledged to work with officials to get supplies to survivors.

“This new tragic situation has laid the foundation for both parties to come together and work towards closing the division between the two parties,” rebel political wing leader S.P. Tamilselvan said yesterday.

He was speaking after a meeting with aid workers and Norwegian peace envoys in the northern rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga said the disaster had helped push longtime foes together. “The threat of going back to war is far more remote than it was before December 26,” Mrs. Kumaratunga told reporters.

U.N. country representative Miguel Bermeo said that if the joint efforts and spirit of harmony prevailed, “a lasting peace in Sri Lanka will be achieved.”

Indonesia and Sri Lanka were hit the hardest by the enormous quake and killer waves. Almost 80,000 people have been killed in Indonesia, the country closest to the epicenter of the earthquake.

Mr. Morris said Aceh was one of the most difficult areas for relief workers to reach, and more than three-quarters of a million people are at risk of disease and starvation in Sri Lanka.

Aceh, he said, would be a tough place because years of conflict meant there was a lack of infrastructure there to deal with the disaster. The Red Cross has arrived in Aceh, and the World Food Program is setting up a camp in the region with help from Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for a permanent end to the almost 30-year rebellion in Aceh, a poor province rich in natural resources where the Free Aceh Movement has been fighting for autonomy.

“I call on those who are still raising arms to come out. … Let us use this historic momentum to join and be united again,” Mr. Yudhoyono told reporters in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

Mr. Morris said the post-tsunami crisis was unprecedented in its scope — covering 13 countries from Indonesia to eastern Africa, including many island communities, and with as many as 5 million people at risk of serious health problems.

The World Food Program expects to complete its assessment of food needs by the end of the week, but early estimates show about 2 million people would need 100,000 tons of food aid over the next six months.

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