Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Assistance Efforts Begin

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) As of COB on December 28, unconfirmed estimates put
the number killed in the December 26 tsunami at over 12,000
(some tallies were as high as 18,000), of which, according to
the Sri Lankan Tourist Board, 70 were foreign tourists. The
Embassy has confirmed that seven American citizens were
killed, while approximately 100 remain unaccounted for. An
American consular officer visited the convention center in
Colombo, where the Government is temporarily housing
displaced foreign tourists, in an effort to make contact with
any Americans who may have turned up there. As of COB on
December 28, one American had been located at the convention
center. A Sri Lankan LES went to the morgue to photograph
the bodies of 31 unidentified foreigners that the Sri Lankan
military had airlifted from various locations in the south.
The Consular section is checking passport photographs of
Americans reported missing for any possible matches. As of
COB on December 28, none had been found.

2. (SBU) The Ambassador updated Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S.
Palihakkara on U.S. assistance efforts the morning of
December 28. The Ambassador emphasized to the Secretary the
importance of the Government designating one clear,
overarching point of contact to coordinate disaster
assistance with the various bilateral and multilateral
missions offering aid. Most important, he stressed, the
person in charge must have sufficient authority to make
things happen and to take quick decisions. Palihakkara
agreed and promised to convey that message. Nonetheless,
confusion persists among donors and, apparently, among Sri
Lankans themselves about whether relief efforts are being
handled by the Prime Minister's Office, the President's
Office or the National Disaster Management Center.

3. (SBU) Ambassador and DATT also met with Defense
Secretary Ashoka Jayawardene to brief him on assistance

planned from the U.S. military. After offering his
condolences, the Ambassador reported that a 31-person joint
assessment team will begin arriving late December 28 to
review assistance needs and make recommendations, to be
followed by an Expeditionary Strike group, expected to reach
Sri Lanka next week. The Ambassador also noted that he had
spoken by telephone with the Commander of Pacific Command the
morning of December 28 with special requests for medical
support, helicopter airlift, water purification units and
other relief supplies. He asked Jayawardene how best to
proceed with providing these services.

4. (SBU) Jayawardene expressed appreciation for the USD
100,000 already promised his government in emergency disaster
relief. He noted that the Indian government had sent two
ships to Galle in the south and two ships and six helicopters
to Trincomalee in the east. Indian medical teams were
already on the ground in Galle and Matara. In addition, he
reported, the Russians have provided 50 teams with sniffer
dogs, along with a scout helicopter, to handle operations in
the north and other uncleared areas. The French have sent
teams to Batticaloa and Ampara in the east; other teams from
Israel and Japan are expected soon. (Note: One Japanese
medical/surgical team is reportedly already deployed in
country. End note.) He ensured his full support to clear
any bureaucratic hurdles for U.S. assistance and overflight
clearances. He added that President Kumaratunga (whom he
identified as in charge of relief operations) had directed
the disaster management committee to make photographing,
fingerprinting and burying the thousands of bodies left by
the tsunami its first priority.

5. (U) Three USAID/OFDA officers had arrived in Colombo as
of late December 28; more are expected in coming days.
Coordinating closely with the AID Mission in Colombo, other
donors and the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL), OFDA will
deploy three assessment teams on two-day missions to the
southern districts of Hambantota and Galle and the eastern
district of Trincomalee beginning on December 29. The teams
will work with UN field offices and local and international
NGOs already on the ground in these areas. Other assessment
teams, composed of specialists from the EU, France, UN, the
British aid agency DFID, and Swiss Disaster Relief, will
visit six other districts affected by the tsunami. Through
their combined efforts, the international assessment teams
will cover all districts that suffered significant
damage/loss of life in the disaster.


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