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    UN Chief Calls on Sri Lanka, Rebels to Put Aside Differences After Tsunami

    Patricia Nunan

    U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling for the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels to put aside their political differences as the country starts to rebuild following last month's devastating tsunami.

    Secretary-General Kofi Annan says during his two-day visit to Sri Lanka, he has seen people of different religions and ethnicities helping each after the December 26 tsunami disaster.

    Mr. Annan says political leaders can learn from their example.

    "So the ordinary people of Sri Lanka have come together on an extraordinary scale to meet the needs created by the emergency. I fervently hope that their political leaders will do the same and join hands," he said.

    Sri Lanka has been wracked by more than 20 years of violence by Tamil rebels fighting for independence or autonomy for their minority ethnic group.

    The two sides have observed a ceasefire for nearly three years. But efforts to resolve the political dispute have largely ground to a halt.

    Hopes have been raised that the two sides will get past the political impasse following the tragedy of the tsunami.

    On Saturday, Mr. Annan toured devastated parts of Sri Lanka, which has lost more than 30,000 people. But the government refused his request to visit regions under Tamil rebel control.

    Despite that decision, Mr. Annan said he had a good visit and effective meetings with officials, including President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

    "I am hoping to be able to come back and some day be able to visit all parts of the country, and not only to visit all parts of the country that I hope will be rebuilt, but also to celebrate peace," he said.

    Mr. Annan visited Sri Lanka after attending an international donors conference Thursday in Indonesia, where dozens of nations and international organizations promised more than $3 billion to the 12 Indian Ocean nations affected by the tsunami disaster.

    Mr. Annan has repeated his pledge that the United Nations would not abandon Sri Lanka during the years of reconstruction they have ahead, and says he hopes the international community will do the same.

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