Food lorries ambushed, aid plundered
By Chris Kamalendran
Amidst a series of complaints that huge stocks of aid are being looted by unscrupulous elements, the Government Agents in the tsunami-hit-eastern, southern and western coastal areas have sought police and armed forces security to distribute relief items.

Government Agents of Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara, Matara, Galle and Kalutara confirmed to The Sunday Times that they have been forced to call for security as some of the areas were not receiving aid in an organised manner leading to shortages of food, medicine and other essentials.

The problem has been aggravated with a range of voluntary organisations, companies, small groups and individuals trying to bring in aid and distribute it on their own with the Social Services Department taking a less prominent role. Government officials and Gramasevakas are among those who have allegedly pilfered food items.

An estimated one million persons are living in nearly 800 refugee camps set up islandwide while thousands remain with friends or relatives. Reports from Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara, Hambantota, Matara, Galle and Kalutara said that in some instances aid workers had been forced to unload excessive stocks at some refugee camps, resulting in others getting too little.

"We cannot direct these groups as to where they should give the aid. They go where they wish to and as a result there is an inequality in the distribution," Ampara District Secretary Herath Abeyweera said. In Galle, persons living in unaffected areas are reported to have moved to affected areas and claimed relief on the basis that their houses had been destroyed.

Galle's District Secretary Gunasiri Hewavitharana said Navy protection was sought after food items were snatched by groups in Balapitiya and Boossa before they were taken to Galle town or other affected areas. He said any group bringing aid could contact him so that he could arrange for security to be provided.

"If the groups want to hand over the aid to be distributed through our office we can do that, but if they want to hand over the assistance directly we can make the security arrangements," he said. Matara District Secretary H.G.S.Jayasekara said food lorries were looted in the Gandara, Weligama and Dondra areas prompting him to call for the Navy to protect the aid convoys..

Trincomalee Government Agent M.D.A.G. Rodrigo said food lorries had been ambushed by mobs in the Kanthalai and Anuradhapura junction in Trincomalee town. "The situation is out of our control and police have been called in," he said. Similar cases of waylaying of food and relief assistance were reported from the Kalutara district.

Meanwhile at least 50 persons involved in looting houses of affected persons have been arrested in various parts of the country. Police have also detected gangs which were removing parts from the vehicles damaged in the tsunami disaster.

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