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Former Presidents Urge Us Not to Lose Focus

Former Presidents Urge Us Not to Lose Focus

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Presidents Clinton and Bush, who are leading the U.S. effort to help tsunami victims in Southeast Asia, challenged aid organizations on Thursday to pick up the pace of their relief work.

Clinton urged the groups to spend the money collected as soon as possible, saying victims are frustrated by delays in recovery projects.

"We need to move this thing as quick as we can," Clinton told business leaders, foreign dignitaries and others at a meeting on the relief campaign.

"Now is the time we need help from the private sector and we need this ... money released, I understand why nobody wants this money released until they're confident it can be effectively spent," Clinton said.

Bush agreed: "We're all anxious to see the rebuilding get a greater sense of momentum."

The Dec. 26 tsunami, brought on by the region's strongest earthquake in four decades, claimed more than 180,000 lives across the Indian Ocean basin and left more than 1 million people homeless.

Bush and Clinton visited the region in February.

Clinton, who is also U.N. envoy for tsunami recovery, said the next six months are crucial -- "by far the hardest period, practically and emotionally.

"This is the period that will be make-or-break whether people that live in these countries -- particularly those who were affected -- believe that the world meant what it said when all the heartbreak occurred," Clinton said.

Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, said aid groups have to be careful in how they spend money, even if it means taking more time. His group has raised $152 million for tsunami relief and spent $14 million. His group will spend the money over five years to seven years.

Hackett said agencies that have connections in the countries they are helping have been able to act more quickly.

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Indonesia's development minister, said it is vital to make sure a credible, coordinated system is established among donors, governments and other involved parties.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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