UN representative visits Sri Lanka IDP camps
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
This was posted on The Agonist September 19 2009.
B Lynn Pascoe, Under Secretary of the United Nations for Political Affairs, visited the IDP camps and met President Rajapaksa and his ministers.
Commenting on his visit to the north, Mr. Pascoe stated that he was ”impressed by the work done by the Army, the demining teams, the UN staff and the civil society” and that the team also witnessed the rehabilitation work that was underway. He also stated that in Jaffna, they were able to feel that the people were looking forward to getting more opportunities and that there was a feeling that a ”whole era was waiting for them”.
”In the Mannar area, we witnessed crews repairing roads and a school, as well as construction work on a large water reservoir to serve some 2,500 families slated to be resettled next week. We saw work being done in preparing rice fields for planting before the monsoons. We received a briefing and demonstration by the military on progress in clearing mines out of the Mannar Rice Bowl region.
In Jaffna, we visited two IDP camps: (a) The Kopai camp housing about four hundred people uprooted during fighting in the final two months of last year; and (b) the Kaidhely University Hostel, which houses more than 500 people who arrived about a week ago from Manik Farms. Also in Jaffna, we visited a rehabilitation center for former LTTE members, about 150 men and women.
We ended the trip in Vavuniya, at the Manik Farms camp. We witnessed food distribution and had an opportunity to talk to IDPs and camp administrators.”
During the discussions, issues pertaining to the health care services provided to the IDPs, educational facilities including the vocational training were also highlighted.
Secretary, Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms, S. K. Gamlath explained the progress made in the rehabilitation of ex-combatants. He stated that after rehabilitation, some have reintegrated into society, while others have gone overseas for employment arranged under a special rehabilitation programme. He also acknowledged the assistance rendered by the UNICEF in this endeavor.
Director General, Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition, Dr. Ajith Mendis, referred to the improvements and the enhancements that have been made to the existing health facilities provided to the IDPs. He pointed out that the hospitals and the clinics in the welfare centers have been strengthened with additional staff and the drug store has also been supplied with adequate medicines and other medical supplies.
Mr Pascoe was encouraged by what he saw but still had some concerns.
”We have urged the government to take the following steps:
To allow those who have completed the screening process to leave the camps as they choose.
For those remaining in the camps, at the very least, they shouldbe able to leave the camps during the daytime, and to freelyvisit friends and family in other sites.”
Responding to Mr. Pascoe’s observation that International Community has concerns when it hears that resettlement will be done after de-mining is completed, the President said resettlement did depend on the de-mining process. He mentioned that sixteen years after its war, Croatia had still not finished de-mining. “We do not intend taking so much time. I have laid down an initial target of 180 days to resettle at least 70% of the IDPs”. With the new equipment in use, and hopefully more to come, he expected the entire resettlement to be completed by the end of next January. “We have identified areas for resettlement and the people will be sent back as they are cleared”.
On the question of IDPs moving to live with relations outside, the President said that the government had already published advertisements in the media, calling for applications from persons seeking such resettlement. However, only 2000 applications had been received. These notices would be published again and also displayed prominently at the welfare villages.
With regard to freedom of movement outside the relief centers the President said that arrangements are already being made to issue day-passes for IDPs who wish to work outside.
Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Advisor to the President said that with the experience of 2000 applicants for re-union with relations, and the limited numbers of jobs in the area, it is likely that there will be only a few takers for these day-passes.
Recalling President Rajapaksa’s earlier commendable record on Human Rights, Mr. Pascoe said he acknowledged the need to adapt the role of the security forces, especially after a very long war. President Rajapaksa said the UN must be aware of the changes that had already being initiated at a very early stage after the war.
President Rajapaksa said: “Whether it is the US, China, Britain or any country we are all members of the UN. When the UN says anything about us we take it seriously. Similarly if big countries, try to bully us we will come to the UN about such matters.”
Mr Pascoe said: ”In the end, Sri Lanka is an energetic member of the United Nations, and it is important that we are able to have a constructive dialogue
about our disagreements. The United Nations is here to help, and will do whatever it can to help Sri Lanka move forward. Our commitment is clear, and much remains to be done.”
“This is an opportunity to move beyond simply ending the fighting to solidifying the peace. As the situation currently stands in the camps, there is a real risk of breeding resentment that will undermine the prospects for political reconciliation in the future.”
Mr. Pascoe concluded by telling President Rajapaksa, “You have a better story than is getting out today.”