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International Donors Increase Pledges to Sri Lanka


International donors to Sri Lanka have wrapped up a conference there by pledging an additional $500 million to help the country recover from the December tsunami. Experts warn that much still needs to be done before Sri Lanka can fully recover.

Sri Lankan officials say the two-day conference in the central city of Kandy was not planned to appeal for more funds, but some of the participants decided to increase their commitments to post-tsunami reconstruction.

Direct assistance pledged by donors, international lending institutions and aid organizations now totals $2.2 billion.

Sri Lanka was one of the nations hardest hit by the December 26 tsunami that slammed into 12 countries ringing the Indian Ocean. More than 30,000 people were killed there, and scores of towns, villages and roads were left in ruins.

Despite the amount of money committed, development experts warn it may take some time before Sri Lanka fully recovers from the disaster.

Rachel Perera is coordinating private and community aid projects in Sri Lanka. On Tuesday she was attending a U.N. conference in Thailand on tsunami recovery. Ms. Perera says the recovery effort is vast.

"Sri Lanka is used to building only 4000 to 5000 houses a year. But here you are talking about 105,000 houses… And then the material for reconstruction - like cement, sand, timber. And also the manpower to do this I think needs to be looked at," she said.

Also at issue is the need to ensure rebuilding takes place evenly across Sri Lanka, including the northern and eastern areas controlled by Tamil-separatist guerrillas.

When the tsunami struck, peace talks between the Tamil rebels and the government aimed at resolving the 20-year conflict had been stalled for two years. The rebels had been fighting for greater rights for the country's ethnic-Tamil minority.

Both the rebel leadership and the Sri Lankan government want a "joint mechanism" to ensure aid is distributed fairly across the country. That, analysts say, may also help the overcome the impasse in the peace process.

Although tsunami reconstruction was high on agenda, the donors' conference also looked at general aid for the impoverished country as it struggles to recover from the long civil war.

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