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'Great Demand' For Tsunami Video

Pushing aside pirated Bollywood movies, new releases are ruling the black market video charts — compilations of grisly pictures and videos of the tsunami horror.

"There is great demand for them," said Mukesh Vyas, a compact disc dealer in Port Blair, capital of the hard-hit Andaman and Nicobar island chain. "We don't have the stock, they are so hard to get."

In corners of tsunami-savaged Asia, videos from the disaster have become a retail commodity — popular in some areas, not so much in others.

Sometimes, the video CDs are simply news footage recorded from television broadcasts. But more often, it's highly graphic footage, often shot by amateurs, that would never make it to broadcast TV at all.

The videos have infuriated survivors and, in a few instances, put police into action.

"This is wrong," said Mildred Kujur, a tsunami survivor from Campbell Bay island, at the southern end of the Andaman archipelago. "They are filling their pockets at our expense. This sort of insensitivity really hurts us."

Police in the Thai resort town of Phuket arrested a man for selling video CDs of the disaster, where sidewalk vendors have been peddling video CDs of the tsunami for about $2.60.

But for the salesman, the videos simply reflect what the public wants to see, a sort of high-tech rubbernecking to one of the most deadly natural disasters of the past century.

"It shows everything — how people died, how they were buried, people who were saved and destroyed property. Good quality. Good sound," said Palaniappan, a 14-year-old boy selling CDs on the sidewalk outside Port Blair's main Roman Catholic church, the Stella Maris Cathedral. Palaniappan uses only one name.

His prices match the demand. While most of Palaniappan's CDs, like a pirated version of the newly released Hindi movie "Swades," sell for about 45 cents, the 80-minute locally made compilation titled simply "Tsunami-Affected Area" goes for more than triple that.

"This is 70 rupees ($1.50), because this is about the tsunami," the boy said.

The video, divided into two parts, includes a droning Hindi-language voiceover. The first part is a slideshow of still photographs, such as giant waves engulfing people and dead bodies in various unidentified Asian locations. The video section has what is billed as the CD's exclusive highlight — amateur footage of the flooding minutes after the tsunami hit Port Blair.

It can be difficult to watch. At one point, a man — apparently drowning — can be seen trying to cling to a bridge as waves wash over him. In another section, the bloated body of a child is levered into a grave by a group of policemen.

The videos worry Dr. Thaveesilp Wisanuyothin, spokesman for the Thai Health Ministry's mental health department.

"These images could appear over and over again in people's minds leaving them with anxiety, sleepless nights or even full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder. Parents should be sure that children don't see such videos," Thaveesilp said in a telephone interview Sunday.

In Jakarta's Chinatown, scores of video stalls are selling a video of footage culled from local and international TV news reports.

The VCD includes a rambling message in Malay that scrolls down the screen, saying the disaster was a warning from Allah because people were ignoring his teachings.

The message links the destruction in southern Thailand to the government's brutal repression there of Muslim separatists, and suggests India and Sri Lanka were hit because it says those nations' largely Hindu populations are against Islam.

The poor-quality footage, which is not particularly graphic, is signed by someone calling himself Abu Saif.

Heri, a video vendor, had no qualms about selling the disc, but said that in the five days he'd been selling it no one had bought a copy.

"It's all about making money," said Heri, who goes by a single name. "I just wish more people would buy it. It's harmless."

In Port Blair, Palaniappan said his extended school vacation, the result of the tsunami, gave him the time to sell the discs. He lost no family members in the disaster, but large areas of his neighborhood were damaged.

Palaniappan strongly recommends the video to buyers, but admits he hadn't been able to watch the most graphic sections.

"I tested the CD for its quality at home. But I couldn't see the bodies and the scenes of cremations," he said. "I walked out."

By Neelesh Misra

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