Annan, Wolfensohn Tour Devastated Sri Lankan Regions

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and World Bank President James Wolfensohn continued their tours to parts of Asia devastated by last month's tsunami with a visit to Sri Lanka. Each pledged continued support to Sri Lanka, one of the countries hardest hit by the deadly waves.

Secretary General Annan said he and World Bank President Wolfensohn came to Sri Lanka to learn from the people what they need to recover from the tsunami.

World Bank officials say the worst-hit parts of Sri Lanka are poor areas, or those that have that have been most affected by the country's two decade long conflict between the government and rebels from the Tamil Tiger guerrilla group.

Mr. Wolfensohn said the disaster may put some of those differences between the two sides into perspective. "It does represent an amazing opportunity to use this moment, when all of us are really seen as 'ants on a planet' - when you look at the power of this tsunami, it's hard to think in terms of parochial issues," he said. "Because regardless of who we are or where we were, nature made us recognize that fundamentally we're all the same."

Mr. Wolfensohn met with Sri Lankan officials to discuss ways to restructure roughly $100 million in existing funding for immediate release for emergency use. In addition, the World Bank has made $75 million available to the government, 40 percent of which takes the form of a grant to help it cope with the disaster. Another 10 million was released at the start of the crisis for emergency medical help.

The assistance may not stop there for Sri Lanka, or the other 11 nations affected by the tsunami. "When we get to the question of reconstruction, what I have told the governments is that we are going to be there for them," said Mr. Wolfensohn. "We could ourselves go up to a billion dollars without any great difficulty in terms of both new and converted funds for this purpose."

Mr. Wolfensohn and the UN secretary-general came to Sri Lanka after attending an international donors conference in Indonesia, where some $3 billion in assistance was pledged to help nations affected by the tsunami.

Next to Indonesia, which lost more than 100,000 people, Sri Lanka was the worst hit, with more than 30,000 people killed. At least 150,000 people across the region were killed.

Despite requests to the Sri Lankan government, Mr. Annan did not visit parts of Sri Lanka under the control of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. The group has been engaged in a 20 year campaign for greater rights for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority.

Since the tsunami, the two sides have traded accusations that the other is preventing aid from reaching people in need on opposite sides of front-line areas.

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