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Tsunami Affects Views of the United States

This week marked the first anniversary of the powerful tsunami in the Indian Ocean that is estimated to have killed about 230,000 people in 12 countries. The tsunami also caused political attitudes to shift, especially towards the West.

Indonesia suffered perhaps 170,000 casualties, and much of Aceh province on the island of Sumatra, nearest the epicenter beneath the Indian Ocean, was laid waste. But Indonesian journalist Aristedes Katoppo of Sinar Harapan, or Ray of Hope, newspaper, said the tragedy had at least one favorable consequence in the disputed area of Aceh, where a strong separatist movement was raging. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Katoppo said that it promoted reconciliation and peace.

And this week, the Freedom Aceh Movement declared that it was disbanding its armed wing, ending a 29-year fight for independence. According to Mr. Katoppo, another positive effect of last year’s tsunami was the warming of relations between Indonesia and the West, particularly the United States. He said the rapid and generous American response to the tragedy in Indonesia improved public perceptions of the United States.

Washington-based Indonesian journalist Christianto Wibisono is a columnist for Suara Pembaluan – or Voice of Renewal – newspaper. He agreed that attitudes toward America have improved. And he noted that moderate Islamic voices are winning out in the struggle with hard-liners. But Aristides Katoppo said that to sustain the good will generated among Indonesians after the tsunami, America should do more to stabilize Indonesia’s economy by using its considerable influence at institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. alleviating poverty in the world.

Another country devastated by last year’s tsunami was Sri Lanka, where 30,000 people are thought to have died and where coastal villages were annihilated. There too, survivors are grateful for American generosity, said Sri Lankan journalist Aziz Haniffa, national affairs editor of India Abroad. And that’s despite the general unpopularity of U.S. foreign policy. But unlike Indonesia, Sri Lanka’s internal political conflict has worsened since the tsunami. He said the continuing insurgency led by the separatist Tamil Tigers has dashed hopes for peaceful coexistence between the majority population and the Tamil minority. Mr. Haniffa said that initially there was hope of some sort of rapprochement, but it now seems that the peace process could unravel and Sri Lanka might once again revert to assassinations and bombings sponsored by the separatists.

The tragedy of least year’s tsunami, although devastating in human and economic terms, has eased political tensions in some of the countries most affected and has generally improved public perceptions of the United States.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.