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Lanka to let Tigers have piece of recovery pie

Colombo, Jan. 21 (Reuters): Sri Lanka plans to use more than half of its $3.5 billion tsunami recovery budget to build new towns, roads and railway and give rebel-held areas a piece of the pie, documents showed today.

A copy of the draft recovery plan obtained by Reuters makes no mention of the Tamil Tiger rebels, who accuse the government of denying them aid. But it outlines projects in at least one district that is almost entirely in rebel hands.

Officials said funds would go into rebel territory, something that could stir controversy among the Sinhalese majority, while the prospect of gleaming new towns and transport links eating into a donor funded recovery budget was already under fire.

'If the plan goes through as it is, it would be taking immoral advantage of the suffering of people. The world gave this money because they saw people suffering, and the money should go to the victims,' said Jehan Perera, director of the National Peace Council. The government announced the recovery blueprint on Monday, the first for any country that suffered major damage from the December 26 tsunami, which killed more than 226,000 people, 38,000 of them in Sri Lanka.

It did not release the draft document to the public and said that details could change once it was discussed with the Opposition and relief agencies.

'Don't depend on this plan. It is being discussed and donors are chipping in as well. By next week it will be changed and refined.' Lalith Weeratunga, a member of the Task Force to Rebuild the Nation, said when asked to respond to the criticism.

The total cost of $3.484 billion is divided among three phases ' emergency repairs, reconstruction and improvements and additions. The last phase will take up $1.5 billion, most of that on roads, railways, water supply projects and tourism.

The reconstruction phase of the plan also allocates $500 million for rebuilding 62 townships with apartments, stadiums and commercial space.

Some towns are being moved to new locations, including Hambantota, the devastated southern town, where the reconstruction drive was launched on Wednesday.

The document lists several projects in the northern Mullaittivu district which is virtually entirely rebel held, but makes no mention of any plans to work with the Tigers.

Asked how the government planned to allow aid to go into rebel-held areas Weeratunga said: 'Obviously it will... but I don't know how it will be done.'

'We are not happy with the distribution... of aid. So we'll have to have a serious discussion with the Norwegian facilitators,' said Anton Balasingham, the Tigers' chief negotiator.

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