Sri Lanka looks forward to tourists' return

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The Independent Online

Two weeks after the tsunami disaster, Sri Lanka and Thailand indicated yesterday that they were moving their recovery effort onto a new phase. But Indonesia, by far the hardest hit, is struggling.

Two weeks after the tsunami disaster, Sri Lanka and Thailand indicated yesterday that they were moving their recovery effort onto a new phase. But Indonesia, by far the hardest hit, is struggling.

In Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga said Sri Lanka was looking forward to tourists returning. "We are now engaged in planning for the reconstruction effort," she said. "We will certainly welcome tourists in three months, maybe four." In Thailand, a Swiss forensic specialist said the process of identifying the corpses was now under way, though it will take months to complete.

Tony Blair will issue the latest British death toll to the Commons today. Yesterday, he said on Breakfast with Frost that the figure of 2,000 people unaccounted for had fallen by between 300 and 400. "It is just an immensely difficult job to get absolutely accurate figures, all countries are struggling with this," he said as the death toll rose to more than 156,000. The Foreign Office has confirmed that 50 Britons died and 391 are highly likely to have been killed.

In Aceh province, Indonesia, torrential rain deepened the misery of the hundreds of thousands of survivors in hundreds of improvised displacement camps around Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, the two towns hardest hit. Army bulldozers have cleared roads instricken areas of Banda Aceh. Corpses are being hauled out of the ruins day after day, but you do not have to go far into the desolation to see the dead in plain view, untouched since the disaster struck.

Video footage of the tsunami's progress through the city showed that as it rolled through a street, the sea was not fast but relentless and unstoppable - taking possession of Banda Aceh in the way that volcanic lava consumes all in its path. Now families forage through the wreckage of their homes. Regular aftershocks remind people of what went before.

A mysterious shooting early yesterday also reminded the world that the province of Aceh was a war zone as well as a disaster area. A series of shots were heard near the UN compound in the part of town that escaped the tsunami, and a soldier was treated for bullet wounds in his legs. It was unclear if the rounds were fired by a insurgent with GAM, the Free Aceh Movement that has been fighting for Aceh's secession for years, or by "a stressed-out soldier" as one source suggested.

But coming on the heels of an incident outside Banda Aceh on Friday in which seven guerrillas were reported killed by the army, it reinforced the perils for the 40-odd non-governmental organisations and hundreds of expatriate aid workers in Aceh. Until the tsunami hit, travellers were strongly warned against travelling in the province. After one year of martial law, Aceh is still under "civil emergency status", though the tight provisions were temporarily abandoned after the disaster.

The presence of an Islamist group, Laskar Mujahedin, with claimed links to al-Qaida among the NGOs at Banda Aceh's military air base has also raised the spectre of a terrorist attack on the US Navy. The navy is flying nose-to-tail helicopter missions out of the air base with no security cover.

The earth is still ringing

The earth is still vibrating from the earthquake off Indonesia that triggered the tsunami, researchers from the Australian National University said. The reverberations were similar to the ringing of a bell, though without the sound, and were picked up by gravity-monitoring instruments.

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