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Canadian Disaster Assistance Response Team returns from Sri Lanka with Zenon and Seprotech still fighting 

Canadian Press

Updated: Mon. Feb. 7 2005 11:23 PM ET

OTTAWA Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team begins returning home from tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka next Monday, as a defense contractor fights a legal war with federal officials over the team's equipment.

The 200-member DART has been in Ampara district 300 kilometers east of Colombo since Jan. 10, providing water and medical care to survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunami that latest estimates say killed up to 178,000 in 11 countries.

The team will return in two main transfers -- Feb. 14 and 24, Foreign Affairs confirmed in a statement Monday, on schedule with its previously stated intention to remain in Sri Lanka for 40 days.

The two reverse osmosis water purification units the troops will bring home with them are the subject of a court fight.

The maker of those units is awaiting a ruling from the Federal Court of Canada on who will be allowed to "repair and overhaul'' them.

Zenon Environmental Inc. is seeking an injunction against the Public Works Department preventing it from contracting servicing of the water purification system out to a third party -- Seprotech Systems Inc. of Ottawa.

Zenon fears trade secrets will be lost if the servicing is farmed out to another company, court documents suggest.

The system is capable of purifying any kind of water in the world, says the Canadian army website. It can treat water tainted by nuclear, biological or chemical warfare agents, as well as fresh, brackish or sea water.

The legal case, filed last March after similar units were used by Canadian troops in Afghanistan, was heard in the Federal Court of Canada last Tuesday. The judge reserved decision.

The DART medical teams have seen about 5,500 patients, while engineers have produced over 2.5 million litres of drinking water and transported more than 55,000 people across a local waterway.

More than 10,000 people died in Ampara alone -- a region about half the size of Prince Edward Island.

Working with international relief agencies, the team repaired schools, cleared rubble and helped build temporary shelters.

The DART complemented the efforts of local authorities and more than 100 non-governmental organizations registered in the region; they will take over the team's tasks.

"DART members did outstanding work to help the region recover from this terrible tragedy,'' Defense Minister Bill Graham said in a statement.

Canada has committed $425 million over five years in relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction money to south Asia since the disaster.

The federal government also announced Monday that Canada has assumed the chair of the Bilateral Donors' Group, which was established to co-ordinate delivery of international assistance in Sri Lanka.

Canada set up a temporary liaison and co-ordination office in Indonesia days after the disaster, one of the first countries to establish such a presence, the statement said.

The number of Canadians dead or presumed dead as a result of the tsunami is seven, while the number of missing Canadians stands at 14.