- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 19, 2005

BAN NAM KHEM, Thailand (AP) — Former President Clinton’s voice trembled with emotion as he and former President Bush put aside their once-bitter political rivalry yesterday in the intense heat of a Thai fishing village where children gave the American politicians drawings of giant waves sweeping away their relatives.

Schoolchildren in red caps and white shirts waving paper American flags were among hundreds who greeted the former leaders in the shattered village of Ban Nam Khem where Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton saw the tsunami’s devastation at the start of their relief mission to the hardest-hit countries.

About 2,000 people — a third of those killed by the tsunami in Thailand, died in and around the village.

Mr. Clinton’s eyes watered and his voice trembled as he spoke about the trauma suffered by children in the village after two who had lost relatives presented the visitors with framed pictures tied in ribbons, one showing a giant wave and a rescue helicopter and the other of floodwaters sweeping away people, cars and boats.

“I thought about all of our religious traditions and how they all teach us how we are not really in control — but we don’t really believe it until something like this happens, and it reminds us all to be a little more humble and grateful for every day,” Mr. Clinton said at a press conference after his visit to the village.

President Bush asked his father and Mr. Clinton to lead the U.S. effort to provide private aid to hundreds of thousands of victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami. They also plan to visit Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

After arriving on the Thai resort island of Phuket yesterday, the two men made their way by U.S. military helicopter and then motorcade to Ban Nam Khem, about 400 miles southwest of Bangkok. They later visited a memorial wall honoring foreign tourists who died, and they then dined with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a tragedy that affected the heartbeat of the American people as much as this tsunami has done,” said the senior Mr. Bush. “I don’t think you can put a limit on it. It’s so devastating. They’re still finding wreckage, still actually some bodies being recovered.”

Though Mr. Clinton denied the elder Mr. Bush a second term in the White House, the former adversaries said their old differences were irrelevant to the task at hand.

“When it comes to helping people, politics is aside,” Mr. Bush said. “I’ve enjoyed working with President Clinton. We were political adversaries. The current president and he don’t always see eye to eye on issues. But that is not what’s important here.”

The official tsunami death toll ranges from 169,070 to 178,118. The number of missing is believed to be as high as 128,426, with most presumed dead.

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