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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 January, 2005, 11:39 GMT
Tsunami disaster
On Sunday, 09 January, 2005, Sir David Frost interviewed President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga

DAVID FROST: Of all the countries hit by the Tsunami, Sri Lanka is probably the poorest and one of the most troubled.

Early signs that the disaster has done the impossible by uniting the war-torn country started to fade fairly quickly.

With the Tamils now accusing the government of hampering relief efforts in their region, does the truce in Sri Lanka look more fragile than ever, or more hopeful perhaps.

I wonder whether it's hope or fear this morning as we're joined now from Colombo by President Kumaratunga.

President, Madam President, do you think as you hoped a few days ago that this crisis could bring the Tamils closer to the government, or do you think it will exacerbate things?

CHANDRIKA KUMARATUNGA: Well, from the time the disaster occurred it was the worst and the most tragic disaster Sri Lanka has known.

We have been sending the government and the international agencies through the government, much relief aid, food and other things, to the affected areas including the north where are the Tamil Tiger headquarters are situated.

They have expressed their satisfaction that they are getting sufficient and regular supplies of all the emergency food and other things that they require. They have said this to the UN agencies, they have said this to my representatives who have gone there and the relief measures go on, the situation is under control in the whole country.

The largest number of deaths recorded is in the east, and then in the south of Sri Lanka, then next comes the north. We are now engaged in planning for the reconstruction effort which we want to start off on the 15th January. We're almost ready.

DAVID FROST: Madam President, do you feel that what Kofi Annan said, when you talk about the rebuilding there, he said that he believes that no one who survived the Tsunami will die of hunger. I mean, do you think that's going to be true in Sri Lanka, that no one will die of hunger?

CHANDRIKA KUMARATUNGA: Quite definitely that is true of Sri Lanka. We have been sending the food, water and other things from the very first day. In addition to the government the normal citizens have come up magnificently with a lot of generosity. They have been collecting foodstuffs, clothes, suchlike, and taking them themselves, distributing it. The international NGOs, the Sri Lankan one, so the people certainly, there will be nobody dying of hunger in Sri Lanka because of Tsunami.

DAVID FROST: That's very clear and that's obviously very, very good news. What do you need most of? I know that there have been cases of several UK doctors, UK-based doctors, who've gone back to Sri Lanka to try and help and so on. But what is, this Sunday morning, what is your greatest need? Is it people coming in to help, is it money or is it actual food?

CHANDRIKA KUMARATUNGA: Well, you see, we have two separate operations. One of the immediate relief operation which as I said is under control. We have sufficient food for a few weeks but we reckon we have to feed the people who have been displaced, who have lost their houses, about 90,000 houses have been destroyed, individual houses. So in a few weeks we will need more food.

For the moment the second operation which is the immediate commencement of reconstruction of damaged roads, schools, hospitals and suchlike - and of course the houses. We have almost finished planning for it. That is where we need assistance. The international donor community has offered us has been very generous.

The UN agencies, in some instances individuals and private sector companies in Sri Lanka have offered help and some foreign companies also. This is where we need the help. People, engineers, architects, technical people to come in and help us co-ordinate the effort of reconstruction.

We plan to, you know the areas that have been most affected are some of the poorest in the country - the north and the east and some parts of the south that are affected have the lowest per capita income and so on. Infrastructure development is not satisfactory in those areas.

And now we envisage with this destruction to rebuild modern infrastructure for all those areas and build new townships with all the facilities that the people would not have had before the disaster.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed. One last question, just a very simple question. When would you hope to welcome tourists back to Sri Lanka? In a matter of months, or years, or what?


DAVID FROST: Three months?

CHANDRIKA KUMARATUNGA: Yes, we have planned to rebuild the damaged hotels. The large ones can be rebuilt in three months, the smaller ones that have got completely washed out will obviously take longer. But we can certainly welcome tourists in three months, maximum four.

DAVID FROST: Well thank you very much, we really appreciate your joining us today. We sympathise with all that your country is going through at the moment and we thank you very much indeed.

CHANDRIKA KUMARATUNGA: May I have one word Sir David. Can I take this opportunity to thank the generosity of the British government. I know that Her Majesty The Queen herself led the mourning process and encouraged the British people to donate. The Prime Minister Tony Blair, the government has been very generous.

They have sent us a lot of relief in the immediate after the disaster, now they have offered us some aid for reconstruction, moratorium on our debts, and of course the British people I know, I have been told by friends and many living there, have been magnificently generous. They're contributing on the streets, in corner shops, in eating places, in their work places. I would like to say a very big thank you.

NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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