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. Canadian PM to visit tsunami disaster zones, relief team heads to Sri Lanka
OTTAWA (AFP) Jan 06, 2005
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin will visit areas stricken by the tsunami disaster in Thailand and Sri Lanka later this month, an official said Thursday.

Martin will amend a previously scheduled trip to Asia to visit Sri Lanka, the destination of a Canadian disaster relief team which left on Thursday, and Thailand, where most of the 146 Canadians still missing were on vacation.

He will leave Canada on January 15 and then move on from Thailand and Sri Lanka to previously scheduled trips to China, including Hong Kong, Japan and India, an official in the prime minister's office told AFP.

In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami tragedy sparked by an earthquake of Sumatra, Indonesia on December 26, Martin was criticised for refusing to return from his Christmas vacation in Morocco.

But he has since emerged as the figurehead of the Canadian aid effort, and on Sunday announced the government would double its aid to 80 million Canadian dollars (66 million US).

Private donations in Canada have topped 57.4 million US dollars (70 million Canadian) and the government has promised to match that figure dollar for dollar until January 11.

Five Canadians were killed and 146 are still missing in the disaster, according to latest official figures released on Wednesday.

On Thursday, a Canadian disaster relief team headed for Sri Lanka on a mission to pump safe drinking water and provide emergency care for victims.

A massive Russian-made Antonov cargo plane took off from an air force base in Trenton, Ontario, carrying 50 tonnes of military equipment and relief supplies -- the first of four such flights carrying the 200-member team.

The team will travel first to the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, before a painstaking journey over poor roads to the district of Ampara, whose population of 600,000 has been one of those worst affected by the disaster.

Founded in 1996, Canada's disaster response team (DART) can provide basic medical care, drinking water to 5,000 people, has a limited engineering capacity, and a command and control structure allowing communications between DART, the host country and other aid agencies.

The departure of the team follows criticism over the government's failure to deploy it to the disaster zone more quickly, with one newspaper quipping the team was "Canada's slow-moving DART."

Officials have however argued that the team is not intended to provide immediate relief, but was set up to go into disaster areas to get people back on their feet as the rebuilding effort begins.

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