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UN Asks Warring Factions in Tsunami Zone to Join Forces

The United Nations is urging warring parties in Sri Lanka and Indonesia to put aside their conflicts and join forces to provide assistance to tsunami victims.  Aid is beginning to reach some of the most remote regions as cargo planes, helicopters and heavy equipment arrive to speed the delivery process.

Day 10 of the relief effort brought news of huge donations from Australia and Germany that pushed the total of tsunami relief pledges to somewhere between three and four billion dollars. U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland called the worldwide outpouring of generosity "incredible," and said the donations were coming in so fast it is hard to keep track.

Jan Egeland
"At the moment, we are not able really to record all the generous contributions we are getting,” said Mr. Egeland.  “They are coming so often and they are so big you have to reconfirm so many times to be sure you were right, that the number of zeroes were right."

The Australian and German pledges came hours before Secretary-General Kofi Annan's appeal that is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars more.

But on the ground, the picture is not so rosy.  Aid workers reaching some of the hardest-hit areas of northwestern Sumatra report that in some places, there are few survivors to help. Still, Mr. Egeland says the progress has been phenomenal considering the circumstances.

"50 to 100 helicopters are bringing out relief in a very, very effective manner, however, through often crude airdrops, which is the only alternative at the moment," he said.
 
Mr. Egeland expressed thanks to the United States, Singapore and Britain for providing immediate assistance, but said he worries that when troops go back to their regular duty stations, the long-term effort could suffer.

"When the extremely valuable U.S. military assets that are saving lives every hour now, and I believe only the United States could do what has been done over past 48 hours,” he noted.  “As those assets may be leaving, we must make sure we have enough from other generous contributors of military and civil defense assets, because the roads will not be repaired in Sumatra in the next few weeks. It will take months, and we will need helicopters for a year or more."

The U.N. official said he was encouraged by the cessation of hostilities between warring factions in tsunami-hit regions of Sumatra and Sri Lanka. He warned that the resumption of fighting would endanger aid deliveries.

"Suspend your conflict and work together with us to help your own people,” he added.  “There is peace now in both Aceh, and in a cease-fire in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka and in the better part of Somalia. We need that peace to hold, because if new conflict breaks out we cannot help the people."

Another bright spot, besides peace, he said, has been the prompt outpouring of global aid, which, he predicts, will go down in history as the most effective relief effort ever.

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