see..different priorities overseas

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    Politics have got in the way of tsunami relief efforts with Sri Lanka stopping United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan from visiting disaster areas controlled by its rebel foes.

    In India's stricken Andaman and Nicobar Islands, aid workers complained the visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had put the brakes on their attempts to reach the remote interior because officials were busy with his itinerary.

    Nearly two weeks after monster waves hammered the coasts of Indian Ocean nations, hardest-hit Indonesia was still pulling thousands of bodies out of the rubble. Its toll rose to more than 104,000 - two-thirds of all those who died.

    A day after saying he was shocked by what he saw in Indonesia, Mr Annan visited Hambantota, a popular tourist resort in south-eastern Sri Lanka, which has been largely ruined.

    But Mr Annan was prevented from visiting the island's hard-hit north and east where he had been invited by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, whose bloody two-decade war for autonomy has killed more than 64,000 people and is on hold thanks to a three-year cease-fire.

    "I am here on a humanitarian mission. I would like to visit all the areas, but as you know I am here as a guest of the Government and they set the itinerary," Mr Annan told Reuters.

    UN officials said they had been striving to convince the Government, but to no avail. A government official cited security concerns among others.

    "[Mr Annan] hasn't gone to Ireland and met with the IRA, he hasn't gone to Spain and met with Basque [rebels]," a government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "There doesn't seem to have been a precedent."

    Indian islands

    In India's worst-hit Andaman and Nicobar islands, aid workers said Mr Singh's tour had hit relief operations.

    "For the last three days, officials have done little else except make pie charts, graphs, files for the Prime Minister's visit," said Vikram Tirkey, a doctor on the remote island chain.

    Mr Singh said he would ensure houses and schools were quickly rebuilt.

    "This is my solemn assurance that the Government of India will spare no resources to come to the aid of all families affected by this tragedy," he said.

    The Government said India's toll from the Boxing Day tsunami had risen to 15,636, including 6,000 people feared to have died on the islands that are home to endangered tribes.

    Sri Lanka

    World Health Organisation director-general Lee Jong-wook said there were no signs of the feared epidemics among the 800,000 homeless in Sri Lanka.

    World Bank President James Wolfensohn, visiting Sri Lanka, said the bank was also considering debt relief and would address the issue soon.

    He also said the bank could hand out up to $US1.5 billion in aid but cautioned he was concerned about how funds are spent.

    -Reuters

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