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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December, 2004, 15:00 GMT
Sri Lanka holds day of mourning
Half-mast flag in Sri Lanka
A simultaneous bell-ringing has been organised at places of worship
White flags of mourning have been hoisted and the national flag taken to half-mast as Sri Lanka holds a day of commemoration for its tsunami dead.

Inter-faith services were being held and a simultaneous bell-ringing organised as the nation comes to terms with its loss of around 28,000 people.

Aid is now flowing from Colombo, but remote areas are still hard to reach.

But there is also some hope the tsunami may help the peace process between Tamil Tiger rebels and the government.

Mass graves

President Chandrika Kumaratunga called for common religious services on Friday, a designated day of mourning, and the ringing of bells in all places of worship at 1230GMT.

Buddhist monks distribute food in Galle

New Year celebrations have been cancelled and a half-day holiday called in many places to allow staff to attend services.

Many workers dressed in the white of mourning and white flags adorned cars and homes.

Colombo driver, Krishant Paul, told the AFP news agency: "What has happened in my country is unbelievable and I am still coming to terms with the tragedy.

"I will work only for half a day and attend a service later in the evening. I have already donated many of my personal belongings to the victims."

In the hard-hit southern town of Galle, Catholic priest Nihal Nanayakkara has been holding joint burial services with Buddhists and Muslims since the tsunami.

The size and scale of this devastation is something I never could imagine, let alone think I'd see in my lifetime
Tim Costello,
World Vision Australia

"We are holding memorial services daily and other services to give strength to the people and offer them the confidence that they need to start a normal life again," he said.

Most of the dead are being buried in mass graves.

As the services were held, aid continued to be trucked out of the capital Colombo.

The BBC's Gina Wilkinson in Galle says there is a steady stream of trucks arriving there.

But she says the challenge is to reach outlying villages. In one village alone there are four refugee camps, each one crammed with 2,000 people.

There is no sanitation and there are reports of dysentery.

Tim Costello, head of World Vision Australia, said it had requested police escorts to smooth the convoys out of the capital.

"The size and scale of this devastation is something I never could imagine, let alone think I'd see in my lifetime," he said.

Conciliatory gestures

The extent of the devastation in north and eastern areas of Sri Lanka controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels is becoming clearer.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen says that in the coastal village of Mullaitivu bodies were being recovered at least one mile (1.6km) inland.

Tamil Tigers say more than 3,000 people in Mullaitivu were killed, some 60% of the population.

Tamil Tiger leaders have organised groups of young rebels to pick up most of the bodies and burn them.

Aid to Tamil Tiger areas was hampered on Friday by torrential rain and flooding that blocked roads from Colombo to Batticaloa.

Many tankers and trucks were brought to a standstill.

One UN convoy of five trucks with sugar, lentils and rice did get through to northern relief camps holding about 80,000 homeless people. Tamil cricket star Muttiah Muralitharan was aboard the convoy.

The Tamil Tigers initially criticised aid distribution to the area but both the government and rebels are making conciliatory gestures.

Before the tsunami there were real fears the nation could revert back to civil war.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has said the threat of war is now "remoter".

She shook the hands of two Tiger women cadres who were helping tsunami victims at a relief centre in the east on Thursday.

Presidential aide Harim Peiris met rebel leaders in the northern town of Kilinochchi on Thursday.

Head of the Tamil Tigers political wing, SP Thamilselvan, said the disaster would "definitely have a positive impact on the peace process as a whole".

The two sides have agreed to launch a joint national relief programme.

But although there has been great praise for citizens helping fellow citizens, there have also been reports of opportunists taking advantage of the suffering.

The Sri Lankan newspaper Lankadeepa said there were "human vultures" in Galle who were demanding money from bereaved relatives for bodies of loved ones they had recovered.

Aid agency Christian Aid also said "treasure hunters" were finding bodies and quickly cremating them.

Rajan Iruthayanathn, of Christian Aid, said two white Westerners were quickly cremated near Batticaloa, with no attempt to discern their identity.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
On the ground in stricken parts of Sri Lanka



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