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The challenge of rebuilding

With 40,000 dead, thousands still missing, over two-thirds of the shoreline and its immediate vicinity destroyed, nearly a million displaced and dispossessed the tragedy that struck us on December 26 was colossal indeed.

It is to the credit of the government and the people that they all rose to the occasion and provided immediate relief to the victims. A wave of compassion and solidarity swept across the length and breadth of the country and the public service, especially the armed services and the police acted with tremendous dedication. The commitment of our youth was astounding.

Much of immediate relief work has been accomplished by now. Already measures are being taken with the assistance of the international community to provide necessary mid-term relief both in kind and in cash to the affected families.

Within a few days of the disaster the government moved in swiftly to establish a central mechanism to coordinate and monitor relief work. The Centre for National Operations (CNO) has already drawn up a three-phased plan of action.

The first phase Relief is now working without a hitch. A fortnight after the tragedy we are now in the midst of the second phase Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. National plans for rehabilitation and reconstruction have been already finalised and will be out within a week. The authorities intend to go further. That is why they are planning the third phase of sustainable economic development.

The challenge before us is enormous. It needs the collective wisdom, collective will and collective effort by all stakeholders - the Government, the Opposition, the LTTE, other political parties and civil society including the professionals and the NGOs.

It is good that the government and opposition political parties are working together at the level of the apex Disaster Relief Committee. It is also commendable that the main Opposition party the UNP has agreed to cooperate with the government in the relief and rehabilitation effort.

The President and the Leader of the Opposition are to meet regularly. The government has responded positively to the proposals put forward by the UNP to overcome the present situation. However, a disconcerting voice is also heard from sections within the UNP.

The latter are continuing vituperative politics confusing and discouraging the people. In the absence of any tangible efforts by the UNP leadership to end these disruptive actions, one wonders whether the leadership is playing a double game for political advantage.

Of special concern is the slogan "relief not reconstruction" put forward by the UNP. The question is not whether relief or reconstruction should get priority. It is a question of relief and reconstruction.

At the same time these elements are fixing various unrealistic deadlines for rehabilitation. One wonders whether their strategy is to go on a frontal attack against the government after their so-called deadlines and call for a change of government. Such a course of action would be treacherous.

On the other hand we see moderates within the UNP recommending no elections for two years and similar proposals to ensure political stability for the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction effort.

The international community, which has come forward to assist us, would find it difficult to understand this political acrimony in this hour of calamity and would be compelled to shy away from helping us.

The Declaration of the European Union Heads of Mission in Colombo has already said, "it is essential that there will be no politicisation of the relief efforts". They have also asked all parties "to refrain from any actions during the distribution of humanitarian aid that might have a potential negative impact on the peace process".

This does not mean that political differences should be abandoned. It is neither feasible nor essential. Nor does it mean that criticism of government action should be stopped. On the other hand, constructive criticism would be most welcome and productive. What is important is to channel them through proper forums while engaging in the common effort to rebuild the country.

The LTTE should also realise the need for united action to overcome the situation. Blowing up each difference and each mistake by either party to score a point over the other would be counterproductive.

The LTTE should take note of the positive developments- the commitment of the government to provide relief and assistance to the people in the North East including those in areas under their control, the massive outpouring of sympathy and relief extended to the Tamil victims by the Sinhala people to build better communal relations and to carry forward the peace process in a spirit of reconciliation.

Similarly the government and the Sinhala majority should not make capital out of the losses suffered by the LTTE as an organization or take sadistic pleasure out of such calamitous consequences.

We repeat the challenge is enormous. The tasks are colossal. We need to maintain and harness the goodwill of the international community. We need utmost unity and cohesion. Any other course of action would be treachery of the highest magnitude.

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