Wave of opportunity


THE ONCE-in-a-lifetime tsunami that swept away the lives, homes or livelihoods of millions from Southeast Asia to Africa now offers unprecedented opportunities for reconciliation in several embittered regions racked by years, even decades, of bloody strife.

It may be naively optimistic to hope that - after the world's aid pours in and the rebuilding begins - the greater need for unity will lessen the hatred festering behind the long-running civil wars in Sri Lanka and Indonesia and rising government frictions with Thai Muslims.

But hope is very much encouraged by reports from Sri Lanka that portray grass-roots cooperation between government military forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels, who have fought a vicious civil war for 20 years.

The Tamils are a mostly Hindu minority in a nation largely made up of Sinhalese Buddhists. They were among the first insurgents to use suicide bombers - killing hundreds, including Sri Lankan officials, civilians and even former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. And they have been operating under an uneasy cease-fire with the government military for the last three years.

But this disaster has reportedly induced the two sides in at least several areas of the South Asian island to work together to deliver aid. "Muslims, Sinhalese, Tamils, they are working together everywhere with this problem," a Sri Lankan businessman told The New York Times. "I'm hoping in the future it will be like that."

Such hopeful portents are not coming so readily from the devastated Indonesian province of Aceh, where separatists and the government are supposed to have been observing a cease-fire since the Dec. 26 tsunami. Encouragingly, Jakarta has opened the normally closed province to outside relief workers and press, but there are reports that it is still carrying on military operations against the rebels in the province.

In a similar vein, even with the devastation along southern Thailand's coast, Thai authorities reportedly were able to somehow spare 10,000 troops to watch out for violence by Muslim insurgents in the south on the one-year anniversary of their raid on a military camp. And in Myanmar, the repressive junta has so delayed the entry of foreign aid workers that there's some doubt about the truth of the regime's insistence that its coastline was not so hard hit.

Tomorrow in Jakarta, representatives of tsunami-stricken nations and world donors will gather to coordinate relief efforts, rebuilding plans and the development of a tsunami-warning system for the Indian Ocean similar to that in the Pacific. The resources, the technologies and the will may be summoned to back up such ambitious undertakings. But without real breakthroughs toward solving the political strife that has victimized large parts of this region, there cannot be much hope that these plans will reach fruition over the long haul. This tsunami laid bare Indian Ocean coastlines - and some deep fault lines in South Asian politics.

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