US troops for Sri Lanka
The United States will deploy troops next week in Sri Lanka for ‘humanitarian operations' in terms of an understanding reached between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar yesterday.

Secretary Powell phoned Mr. Kadirgamar last morning before emplaning for a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to discuss further aid for victims of last Sunday’s tsunami tidal wave disaster that has cost the lives of nearly 200,000 people in seven countries hugging the Indian Ocean.

The rapid increase in the US commitment, first at US$ 12.5 million, then raised to US$ 35 million and now US$ 350 million has already been officially announced. US Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead told a news conference last evening that 1,400 marines would be assigned for rebuilding work. This will be on the basis of a re-building programme the Government plans to announce on January 15, he said.

USS Bonhommie Richard, a multi-purpose assault ship, together with five Hovercraft and 20 helicopters will be inducted along with the US troops scheduled to come here by Wednesday. They are to set up a logistics base in Galle for operations in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

US troop deployment in Sri Lanka and their possible presence in the eastern waters have caused considerable anxiety in the LTTE hierarchy. Reports from Kilinochchi said the guerrilla leadership was discussing whether or not to raise issue over the matter with Norwegian peace facilitators. The move has already received the endorsement of the Indian Government, according to diplomatic sources.

The US efforts are now being supplemented by India. Yesterday a 45-bed floating hospital weighed anchor outside the Colombo Harbour. This is in addition to field hospitals that have been set up by the Indians. Three Indian Naval vessels are already in Galle whilst two are in Trincomalee. Indian aircraft have air-dropped twenty tons of supplies to the needy in the affected areas.

Besides, an increased financial commitment and the deployment of troops, the United States is also spearheading a move with three other countries to establish an Early Warning System for countries in the Indian Ocean rim. Others in this consortium are Australia, India and Japan.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga called for an Early Warning System immediately after the tsunami brutalised Sri Lanka and promised to raise issue at the scheduled SAARC summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh this month. However, the summit has been postponed after three of the seven SAARC countries – India, Sri Lanka and Maldives – were hit by the tsunami catastrophe. Further measures to deal with the aftermath of the catastrophe will come up for discussion when the affected countries meet in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Though President Kumaratunga was invited for this top-level meeting, she has designated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar to take part.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to attend this summit which is to end with a declaration spelling out the joint measures to be formulated. Participants have been told to make ten-minute presentations each setting out the positions in their own countries.

Besides the formal US Government response, many other leading US dignitaries are also Sri Lanka bound. Among them are Secretary Powell, Governor Jeb Bush, brother of President George Bush, and Senate Minority Leader Dr. Bill Frist described as one of ten top influential leaders in the United States. They are trying to schedule visits to Colombo.

Yesterday President Bush ordered that the US flag be at half mast for the whole of next week while despatching the Fairfax County and Los Angeles Search and Rescue teams to Colombo.

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