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Relief organisations agree to cooperate

Children throng around a water tank donated by Switzerland at a shelter for displaced people in Sri Lanka Keystone

Switzerland's aid agencies have agreed to work closely with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to bring relief to tsunami survivors.

This content was published on January 7, 2005 - 13:29

But differences have emerged among them over the form that Swiss assistance to southeast Asia should take.

Meeting in Bern on Friday, the aid organisations said they hoped that by pulling together they would be able to get aid to the survivors more quickly.

The exchange of information forum was attended by representatives of the SDC, the fundraising body Swiss Solidarity, and 13 other agencies.

It was described by the SDC as "the first step towards the coordination of Swiss emergency and reconstruction aid after the tsunami disaster".

"By pooling efforts and synergies, Switzerland's emergency and reconstruction work should have sustainable results and should benefit as soon as possible those affected by the tsunami disaster," the SDC said in a news release.

It said that while Swiss Solidarity and the SDC would remain independent partners, carrying out relief work using their own means, technical and logistical synergies could be pooled for maximum efficiency.

Criticism

But differences emerged among the key players on Friday, when the head of the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations criticised Swiss government plans to rebuild a village in Thailand.

Peter Niggli told the Aargauer Zeitung that it was not clear exactly what Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and her advisers had in mind. But all those involved in development work were alarmed at the idea of Switzerland building "model villages" in another part of the world.

Niggli also questioned the working methods of Swiss Solidarity - the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. Aid agencies working on projects with Swiss Solidarity were obliged to contribute 20 per cent of the running costs, he said.

Niggli commented that if Swiss Solidarity received the lion's share of donations for tsunami victims, the aid agencies would not be in a financial position to pay their 20 per cent of the costs.

Swiss Solidarity has so far collected SFr114 million ($96 million) in donations.

Helicopters

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has welcomed a decision by Switzerland to send three transport helicopters and up to 50 military personnel to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which was devastated by the tsunami.

The cabinet decision follows a request by the UNHCR on Thursday.

"This is a very generous offer from a country with a strong humanitarian tradition," said Asia Pacific Bureau director Janet Lim in a statement.

"Logistics are a major constraint in this emergency relief operation, and these helicopters will be essential in helping us move materials and staff into the remote parts of Aceh's west coast where assistance is desperately needed."

Army chief Christophe Keckeis said the cost of the relief mission, which is expected to last three months, would be up to SFr3 million.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

At least 156,000 people are feared dead in southeast Asia following the tsunami.
The death toll in Indonesia alone is more than 101,000.
More than 30,000 are dead in Sri Lanka.
Nearly 8,000 foreign tourists - mainly Europeans - are dead or missing.

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