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Swiss double Sri Lanka tsunami aid

A new housing complex built for tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka Keystone

Switzerland has pledged a further SFr10.9 million ($8.5 million) to help rebuild homes in Sri Lanka battered by the tsunami over a year ago.

The commitment came during a two-day visit to the country by senior Swiss aid officials and the charity Swiss Solidarity to assess the progress of reconstruction efforts.

The money has been earmarked for post-tsunami rebuilding work in the southern district of Matara and the eastern area of Trincomalee, where a consortium of Swiss agencies is concentrating its efforts.

The funding comes on top of the SFr10.5 million allocated last year by Switzerland for emergency and reconstruction programmes in Sri Lanka.

Headed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the consortium has so far helped to repair and rebuild around 8,500 homes in Matara and Trincomalee.

A second phase of work to reconstruct thousands of damaged or destroyed homes in former buffer zones closer to the seashore is due to start shortly, after the Sri Lankan government lifted restrictions.

“There is still a great deal of work to be done to rebuild houses in these zones and this latest financial contribution will make a real difference,” Markus Baechler, the SDC’s director in Sri Lanka, told swissinfo.

The SDC is also engaged in a separate project in Matara rebuilding eight schools. The total cost of this programme, due for completion in early 2008, is around SFr11 million.

Similar work is taking place on the Jaffna peninsula where the SDC is repairing six tsunami-affected schools at a cost of SFr3.7 million.

Peace talks

The funding increase comes ahead of a second round of talks in Geneva later this month between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

In February the two sides met in Geneva for the first time in almost three years and agreed to respect a fragile four-year-old ceasefire and stop all acts of violence.

The meeting was convened by Norwegian mediators to prevent the country sliding back into civil war after an upsurge in killings following the presidential election in November.

Both sides are due to meet again in Geneva on April 19-21 when they are expected to refocus on efforts to reduce the level of violence. But diplomats warn that a lasting peace remains some way off.

On Wednesday the Tamil Tigers accused the government of failing to honour a pledge made in Geneva to disarm paramilitary groups.

The government meanwhile says the separatist rebels are continuing to recruit child soldiers and attack government troops.

The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland in the north and east of the country. The conflict has cost an estimated 65,000 lives.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

Switzerland donated SFr10.5 million last year for emergency and reconstruction programmes in Sri Lanka.

Its aid efforts are coordinated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and most projects are in the southern district of Matara and the eastern area of Trincomalee.

The SDC is working closely with the Swiss Red Cross, Swiss Interchurch Aid (HEKS) and Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo’s parent company.

The tsunami on December 26, 2004, mainly affected Sri Lanka’s north, east and south coasts.
According to the SDC, more than 30,000 people died and around 500,000 were left homeless.
Around 70,000 houses were destroyed and a further 40,000 damaged.
More than 35,000 Sri Lankans, mostly Tamils, live in Switzerland.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR