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Former US Presidents Bush and Clinton Meet Young Sri Lankan Tsunami Survivors

  • Patricia Nunan

Former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton have met Sri Lankan children who survived December's devastating tsunami. The former political rivals are assessing how the U.S. can help rebuild affected countries.

Young survivors of the deadly tsunami sang and performed dances during the visit by George Bush and Bill Clinton to a trauma center on Sri Lanka's southern coast. Others drew crayon pictures of their terrifying experiences to show to the former U.S. presidents.

Philip Frayne, spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Sri Lanka, later said the two men were "delighted" to have met with the children.

"They said that one of the things that people sometimes forget is that there's not just a need for reconstruction of houses and fishing boats and things, but there is also a need for counseling of the victims and above all for counseling of children that may have lost brothers and sisters and parents in the tsunami," he said.

President George W. Bush appointed his father and Mr. Clinton to head the U.S. effort to provide private aid to victims of the December 26 earthquake and tsunami, which killed about 290,000 people and left millions homeless and destitute in countries around the Indian Ocean.

The two men had earlier visited Thailand and Indonesia's Aceh province, the region hit hardest by the natural disaster. Speaking before leaving Aceh for Sri Lanka, Mr. Clinton was clearly moved by what he had seen.

"I think its almost impossible to appreciate the scope of this [disaster] if you haven't physically seen them," he said. "You know we watch it carefully on television, it's not the same."

The international community has pledged $5 billion in assistance to countries affected by the tsunami. But that may not be enough.

Mr. Frayne says one reason for the two presidents' visit to the region is to maintain international interest in reconstruction efforts across the region.

"The point is that Indonesia and Sri Lanka, as well as Thailand, are still in need of assistance," he said. "That just because the immediate emergency, humanitarian relief effort has switched into a phase of reconstruction, that doesn't mean that people should stop donating or paying attention to what's going on here."

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush were scheduled to wrap up their four-nation tour with a brief visit to the Maldives, before flying back to the United States.