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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 January, 2005, 11:13 GMT
Fishermen battle fears of disease
Catch landed at Mirissa in southern Sri Lanka
Villagers in Mirissa held a barbecue to show fish was safe to eat
A small fleet ventured out from a south Sri Lankan port on Wednesday - the first step in rebuilding the country's vital but devastated fishing industry.

Seven boats left Mirissa and returned with a symbolic catch, some to be sent to President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

They hope she will eat the fish publicly to dispel fears that catches are contaminated by decomposing bodies.

The tsunami killed more than 30,000 in Sri Lanka. The nation's Central Bank puts damage costs this year at $1.3bn.

Between 800,000 and one million people are thought to have been displaced.

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The BBC's Gina Wilkinson in Mirissa says many fishermen in Sri Lanka are still reluctant to leave the shore as they are worried that more huge waves may swamp the coast.

Villagers in Kattankudi, east Sri Lanka
Ruined homes in Kattankudi

Many more Sri Lankans believe mistakenly that fish, a staple food in Sri Lanka, are contaminated with disease.

Fisherman Lasantha Jayasooriya overcame his fears to take his boat out.

"There are many fish on the boat today but we cannot send it to market because nobody will buy it," he told the AFP news agency.

The fishermen held a barbecue in Mirissa and said they hoped the president would dine on the fish sent to her and encourage others to support the industry.

In some parts of eastern Sri Lanka, the worst-hit area, shops were reportedly opening for the first time in nine days.

The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra in Amparai district says some villages are slowly returning to life with people clearing up their homes.

However, she says many are too scared to return to live in them and remain in shelters in schools and community centres.

Helicopters

The heavy monsoon rains that have hampered relief efforts cleared a little on Wednesday, allowing aid workers to quicken their pace.

Our soldiers have even given blood to help [Tigers'] cadres who were injured
Daya Ratnayake,
defence ministry

Helicopter drops to the east resumed after being suspended on Tuesday

The first of 200 Canadian troops have arrived in Amparai to bolster aid efforts.

Further north, friction between the government and the Tamil Tigers continues to dog the relief effort in areas controlled by the rebels.

The Tigers on Wednesday accused the army of blocking aid to thousands of Tamils.

"The military is invading all welfare centres and demanding that all relief supplies should be handed over to them and not directly to the people," Tigers' spokesman S Puleedevan said.

Market at Kogalla, south-west Sri Lanka
Markets in some areas are beginning to reopen

The government angrily rejected the claims.

Defence ministry spokesman, Daya Ratnayake, said: "Our soldiers have even given blood to help [Tigers'] cadres who were injured. We are not taking away any aid. In fact, we have donated our rations too."

Tensions between the sides have returned despite initial conciliatory gestures that raised hopes the tsunami might help the country's deadlocked peace process get back on track.

On Wednesday, the country's Central Bank announced a loan scheme to help victims rebuild their lives.

About $50m would be lent at six per cent interest rather than the prime 10.6%, bank governor, Sunil Mendis, said.

Mr Mendis said rebuilding costs this year would be about $1.3bn.

"It could go up in 2006," he said.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Heavy monsoon rains hinder Sri Lanka aid



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