Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: IDPs

Triumphalism and foreign commentators

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday August 29 2010.

Some months ago, my fellow LAKBIMAnEWS contributor, Dayan Jayatilleka, was kind enough to mention my humble efforts in what he called “the prestigious Le Monde diplomatique”. In a series of short articles, I tried to convey to the western world the complexity of what was actually happening in our country. Most people who  commented on these pieces described them as  “professional” and “unbiased”, although an article caused one reader to call me a government lackey and another to call me a regurgitator of terrorist propaganda. I received an e-mail addressing me as “you crazed Irish monkey, you IRA fugitive. You should be in a zoo or an asylum”.

The August 2009 edition of Le Monde diplomatique carried an article on Sri Lanka by one Cédric Gouverneur entitled ‘The Time of Triumphalism.’ The editor of the English-language edition, Wendy Kristianasen, asked me for my views, somewhat pointlessly,  after the article was published. Unfortunately, she did not like my views.

She wrote to me: “It will be rather a statement of the obvious for you, but it is a good way to get the wider world interested in the country and its complex politics.”

My response was that it was unhelpful to get the wider world interested if the wider world gets interested in a distorted picture. Her response was : “I think, for what it’s worth, that the West knows very little about Sri Lanka, particularly outside of the UK. …Most ordinary people simply know that there was a long, difficult conflict. That’s all. Whereas what goes on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and particularly Israel, is widely reported on, in every detail, and closely followed. Every ordinary person has an opinion on those subjects, and may even feel him/herself to be an armchair expert.”

Cédric Gouverneur wrote about Sri Lanka back in 2004: “Many observers would wager that the LTTE will evolve mid-term, influenced by the Tamil diaspora (accustomed to Western democracy after 20 years of exile) and their own pragmatic leaders, who are increasingly political and less warlike.”

He clearly got that horribly wrong!

In this latest article he raises several issues which need to be debated, and which have been covered in some depth in LAKBIMAnEWS and other papers, such as the plight of the IDPs, the militarisation of the north, the fear of colonisation of predominantly Tamil areas.

The phrase “the government, overjoyed at being able to divide the Tamils” occurs in the body of the text. I doubt if that is actually telling us anything real or useful. This phrase suggests that the Tamil inhabitants of Sri Lanka form a homogeneous entity. Tamils are already divided by differences of origin, class, caste, religion, income, status and political views no matter what the government does. It would be more accurate to say “The government, overjoyed at electorally annihilating the opposition”.

In the article, theories are developed on the strength of vox pop statements from unreliable witnesses. “This triumphalism has exasperated Tamils recently liberated from Menic (sic) Farm”. This is based on the comments of a man who is nostalgic about the days of the LTTE. But even he says : “I appreciate that since the shelling, the army has behaved well towards civilians. They want to win our hearts and minds.”

Shanti Satchithanandam’s views are cited and she is described as a “victim” of the Tigers. Others have described her as a Tiger supporter.

It is implied that Sinhalese were gullible because: “They truly believe the media’s line that their army freed the Tamils from the clutches of a criminal organisation.” Why should they not believe it?!

The article is riddled with factual inaccuracies. There many serious howlers in the historical timeline headed “Thirty years of civil war”. I will not bore you with all of them. The thirty years begins with 1815 (surely something wrong with the arithmetic!). “The British finish colonising the island, previously divided into three kingdoms – two Sinhalese, one Tamil”. The most egregious error is “December 2009. Rival candidates President Rajapaksa and the former chief of staff, Sarath Fonseka, dispute the election results”. How could they dispute the results in December 2009 of an election which did not take place until January 2010?

Ms Kristianasen was not pleased when I drew her attention to these flaws. She said “I must ask you to commit yourself to responsible journalism”. Monsieur Gouverneur sent me an angry and abusive e-mail after she forwarded to him my e-mail address without my permission.

I urge you to read the article in full. Only paying subscribers to Le Monde diplomatique can access it on their own website (http://mondediplo.com/2010/08/05srilanka) but the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice (whose Advisory Council includes Noam Chomsky, Bianca Jagger, Jake Lynch, Lakhdar Brahimi, who was once foreign minister of human-rights beacon Algeria,  and Edward Mortimer) have kindly reproduced it (historical howlers and all).

http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2010/08/uncomfortable-peace-in-sri-lanka-time.html

I am not one of those who use the tu quoque argument or says westerners are not allowed to criticise Sri Lanka because the crimes of the west are worse. However, Sri Lanka seems plagued by foreigners dropping in for a few days, becoming instant experts and disseminating a distorted picture. Cédric Gouverneur has written many of these “what I did on my holidays” pieces.

I urge LAKBIMAnEWS readers to study the article and engage in debate on it. Unfortunately, such debate is not possible with Le Monde diplomatique – they have no letters page, no readers’ editor, no complaints or corrections section, no facility to comment in any way on M Gouverneur’s article.

Sri Lanka’s displaced people Part 2

This was posted on  The Agonist on August 11, 2009.

IDP camps in Sri Lanka

The controversy over refugee camps in Sri Lanka continues.

On August 8, Amnesty International published a document calling on the Sri Lankan government to ensure:

  • Right to liberty and freedom of movement
  • Systematic and transparent registration for each displaced person
  • Family reunification
  • Civilian administration and humanitarian access

Conditions in the camps

Despite the claims of human rights groups and vocal sections of the Tamil diaspora, there has been sufficient access to the camps for a great number of eyewitness reports to be published.

Here is one at random that I have just seen from a Colombo blogger: ”many of the people at the camps are the most resilient and resourceful people I have ever met in this country. Vegetable patches growing outside tents would vouch for that. Or the fact that out of the thousands of people we met or passed by there, only a handful acted like beggars or freeloaders.”

Another says ”a lucrative trade has emerged. Liquor, groceries, can be purchased by those able to access remittances from abroad, the entire transaction going through the military or others in a position to profit from suffering.”

DBS Jeyaraj, a distinguished Sri Lankan Tamil journalist based in Canada, posted an eye-witness account of the camps on his blog and introduced it with the following remarks: ”Once again I ask readers not to engage in ethnic-orientated recrimination about the IDP plight. Please see a humanitarian tragedy as human beings and not as ethnic beings. I must also state that this account is not the conventional fact-finding report but more of a sincere attempt to describe first-hand impressions of existential reality.”

The observers summarised their main points:

  • Many families have relatives they can go and stay with but are forcibly kept in the camp.
  • Names of IDPs are not registered systematically.
  • Screening procedures are not transparent and information is not fed back to families.
  • Families are separated in different zones.
  • The camps are administered by armed military personnel, which seem more threatening than a civilian administration.
  • There should be a right to information.
  • Aid agencies should be able to talk to the displaced.

“On both sides of the road, you could see human waste. We stopped the vehicle to take photographs but the stench was too overpowering for us to stay long.”

”Three of our colleagues who wore open footwear while working in the camps were later infected with various foot diseases. One had to have his toe nails removed.”

“One of the Grama Niladharis (local government official) was stealing supplies, which should have gone to IDPs for other purposes. Community leaders among the IDPs who complained were threatened. Corruption, mainly involving Tamil officials, seems rampant in these camps.”

”We saw an official who works in Colombo who had come to see his mother. He drove a luxury vehicle and looked as if he was from the upper strata of Sri Lankan Tamil society. His mother looked like an impoverished, malnourished beggar”.

In The Island newspaper, Lilani Jayatilaka described a visit to the camps: ”Happily, and contrary to our expectations, most people in the camp seemed relatively cheerful. Their sudden release from the overriding fear of imminent death or disablement and the resultant sense of physical safety were reason enough for their relaxed demeanour. However, when we spoke to them, they all expressed an anxiety to get back to their homes and to their occupations. When I asked them whether their homes were still intact, they said that though their homes had been demolished, they would rebuild, once they got back home.”

”One little girl, who was about ten years old, said that, prior to coming to the camp, she had slept in a bunker to escape the shelling, and used to fall asleep through fear, though her stomach was empty. At that time, she had subsisted on just one meal a day. Now she had three meals a day.”

What many accounts from western journalists omit from their stories of genocide and concentration camps, is that many Sinhalese, as well as paying for rehabilitation through their taxes, are rallying around organising help for the IDPs on a personal humanitarian basis. Lilani Jayatilaka wrote: ”Young school leavers from Colombo, who had been instrumental in making all the organizational arrangements, as well as in parcelling the “friendship package’ for each family.”

I was surprised to read that even back in April, before the war was over, the banks had set up ATMs in the camps.

A delegation from Hatton National Bank, headed by Senior Manager Mr Teagharajah (a Tamil), provided water tanks.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Displaced Persons, Erik Schwartz, who visited the Zero Camp in the Menik Farm IDP camp on July 26, said the government has taken necessary steps to improve conditions in the IDP camps.

The editor of The Hindu reported on his visit to the Menik Farm camp: ”Conditions in these camps are much better than what has been depicted, mostly second-hand, that is, without visiting the camps, in western media reports. Moreover, they are visibly better than conditions in Sri Lankan refugee camps in India, which are still mostly inaccessible to journalists, researchers, and other outsiders. Basic needs, including education for the schoolchildren and vocational training for older boys and girls, are being met by the Sri Lankan government with assistance from the United Nations, a number of countries, including India, and more than 50 INGOs.”

A retired Sri Lankan editor, now a resident of Victoria in Australia, H Mahindapala, reported what he saw in the camps: ”They have schools and hospitals. One hospital is run by a team of Indian specialists ranging from cardiac surgeons to nephrologists. This hospital has an x-ray unit, a small operating theatre and large stocks of required medicine. All medicine ” you name it ” is distributed free. The Sri Lankan hospital is manned by 55 doctors who also run a mobile ambulance. Here too medicine is free.

A-Level students were given tuition by specialists teachers transported from leading elitist schools like Royal College and D. S. Senanayake College in Colombo. There is a bank in which the IDPs had deposited Rs.300 million. There is a post office and phone facilities to contact the outside world. Anybody is allowed to visit them. There is a fish and a meat shop. I did not see a single student carrying AK 47s. They were more interested in watching the 20-20 series on TV sets. Investigations were going on to find the relatives of orphans. There were two INGOs purifying the water pumped from the Malwatu Oya. An engineer of the Water Board, M. Manoharan (a Tamil in case you do not know) was supervising the operations of this water project. The IDPs were provided dry rations. Visitors and well-wishers from the south, mostly Sinhalese, bring loads of goodies for the IDPs. If you had a choice in which “concentration camp” would you like to be: the one run for Japanese in Australia or the one run by the Sri Lankan government?”

He quoted his local paper in Australia: ”It reported on page one that ”˜an estimated 300,000 people (are) going hungry in Victoria.’ It added on page 8: ”˜One in 10 Victorians are malnourished, go hungry or feel anxious because they cannot access healthy and safe food.’ For your edification may I state the 300,000 IDPs are not in such dire straits as the Victorians in affluent Australia?” Like the USA, Australia is a nation founded on genocide. Those Aborigines who survived live today in appalling conditions.

This is not to say Menik Farm is Club Mediterranean but it isn’t Belsen either (or Glastonbury or Woodstock).

Tamil News says ”reliable sources” claim foreigners are being misled by being shown the better facilities

Health

From the outset, there have been fears about the health of the inmates. “With such a large number of people concentrated together, there is always the risk of waterborne disease with the rains,” said Laurent Sury, head of mission for Medecins Sans Frontieres. The monsoon lasts about four months, and even though the World Health Organization (WHO) says no large disease outbreaks have been reported so far, the risk factors for malaria and diarrhoea have increased.

The WHO has been working closely with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health to ensure the health and welfare of IDPs. The WHO field unit in Vavuniya has been active in providing support on the ground in close coordination with the Regional Health services and Humanitarian partners.

The Colombo-based Medical Research Institute said in March that in six out of the then 13 camps, 25.5% of children suffered from global acute malnutrition, of whom 5.2% were severely malnourished and needed immediate rehabilitation with therapeutic food and treatment.

A recent press release by the UNHCR stated: ”No major disease outbreaks have been reported so far from the IDP centres despite concerns by UN and relief agencies of overcrowding.” There are currently concerns about skin complaints.

WHO said the Ministry of Health had taken precautions to deal with a possible malaria outbreak, with proper surveillance mechanisms at all camps. Until 19 June, only 29 cases of malaria had been reported, but health officials initiated a high alert when two cases were reported on 18 June from zone 4 in Menik Farm. Until 18 June 1,060 cases of dysentery and more than 5,000 cases of diarrhoea had been reported from the camps. There was a serious threat of waterborne diseases because so many people were living so close together.

The greatest disease outbreak initially was chickenpox, with more than 12,000 cases. Medical officers working with the displaced suspect that most of the chickenpox patients contracted the disease before they arrived in the camps. The UN reported that cases had since decreased and the number of new cases reported steadily declined from mid June.” The number of Hepatitis A cases also declined. A total of 2,139 cases were reported as at 12 June.

“Child health remains a key priority for the Government of Sri Lanka. We are committed to ensuring that the IDP population is protected,” said Secretary to the Ministry of Health, Athula Kahandaliyanage. On August 3rd a vaccination programme was launched. The campaign is being run by the Ministry of Health, UNICEF, World Health Organization (WHO), Sarvodaya (a local NGO) and other partners. “All the children between the age of six months and one year are given an additional dose of measles vaccine. Children between one to three years of age are given a dose of MR (measles) vaccine. All males and females between the age of 13 and 21 years who have not received the adult Td (Tetanus, Diphtheria) vaccine will be given a single dose of a Td (vaccine),” the WHO report stated.

“High-risk groups in the IDP camps (such as food handlers, health workers and workers working closely with patients) are being given Vipolysaccharide typhoid vaccine.” The children were also given a dose of vitamin A and de-worming tablets to raise resistance against other diseases and stem malnutrition.

At least 100 public health workers and 1,200 volunteers were expected to participate at 30 centres in Vavuniya District. An Indian medical team arrived in Sri Lanka on March 10 and set up a hospital in Pulmoddai, in Trincomalee district in the Eastern province to receive sick and injured IDPs being brought by Red Cross ships from the areas held by the LTTE.

India now feels that conditions have improved sufficiently to withdraw. Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, Alok Prasad, said in a letter addressed to Sri Lankan Health Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva: ”Since a very useful facility has been set up and the physical infrastructure of the hospital will remain in place, you may like to consider that the hospital may be taken over by the Ministry of Health on Aug.31, 2009”.

The Sri Lanka Sunday Times reported on 9 August that the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) Spokesperson Upul Gunasekara had said that the government should have appointed a proper administrator to oversee health services in the camps.  ”We have spoken to the President, the Director General of Health Services and the Secretary of Ministry of Health but no one is taking any action. Even the IDP health coordination centre is a mess as they do not have proper administrators to execute the work. The doctors who are working there are frustrated with the situation. If this continues even we will not be able to control the situation.”

Dr Gunasekara also complained that his members had not received their overtime pay. ”These doctors are undergoing a lot of hardship in the area and they should be the ones who are looked after. If doctors of the national hospital can be paid overtime payments I cannot understand why they don’t have money to pay these doctors who are working in Vavuniya.”

Sri Lanka’s displaced people Part 3

This was posted on August 26th, 2009

Rain

When I first moved to Sri Lanka from Ireland some seven years ago, a friend wrote to me asking if I missed the Cork rain. I replied that indeed I did…  I missed its moderation. My first impression was that the rainy season in my new home lasted 13 months every year. I realise now that I was being hyperbolic but this is the first August that torrential rain has not been coming through my roof. A few years ago, there was one occasion when I woke up at about three in the morning to watch my slippers floating past me on the tide.

I am not being flippant here, merely trying to feel some empathy for those in the IDP camps in the north. How would I feel being in a tent in such weather? I spent a weekend in a tent in a sea of mud at the Glastonbury festival but I knew when it would end and there was the compensation of seeing Johnny Cash, Jackson Browne and Dwight Yoakam, among others, perform.

The monsoon season in Sri Lanka used to be predictable and everyone knows that it entails torrential downpours and floods of red mud. People die. It was expected in the north and fears were raised about the effects on those living in the camps.

There have been floods at Menik Farm already, before the real monsoon arrived. ”If only three or four hours of rain cause this much chaos, only imagine what a full monsoon can cause,” said David White, country director for Oxfam.

Disaster Management Minister Rishard Bathiudeen (who has been an inmate of an IDP camp himself because of ethnic cleansing of Muslims carried out by the LTTE) said the recent breakdown of the sewage and drainage system at displaced people’s camps because of flooding could not be blamed on the government. Mr. Bathiudeen said it was the fault of the UN agencies, which constructed the drainage system and set up flood preventive measures. ”So how can you blame the Government for the blockage in the drainage systems and the overflow of sewage during the floods,” he said. Mr. Bathiudeen said only about 400 refugees in ”˜Zone 4’ were affected by the flood and the matter was dealt with as soon as it was reported to the authorities. He said the refugees were provided with meals, accommodation, and healthcare facilities.

P S M Charles, the Government Agent in Vavuniya, said 60 families had to be temporarily moved to a higher location within the camp but that the situation was under control. Charles said that on the first day after the rain, cooked meals were provided for 21,000 people. “We have now managed the situation. Extra tents were distributed among the affected people. The drainage system was also cleaned”. By the second day, things were brought under control and cooked meals had to be provided for only 500 people and people were again able to cook for themselves.

Mavai Senathirajah MP, the general secretary of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) the parliamentary voice of the LTTE, told Parliament that people were undergoing immense mental strain because of living conditions in the camps. ”There is a horrible situation there. The country will experience the north-eastern monsoon rains next month, and the situation will deteriorate further then. The camp site is impassable for vehicles too. We will not be surprised if the people confront the military. We sound a warning of this”.

A blogger unsympathetic to the Tamil cause remarked: ” Don’t be panic! Tomorrow sun shines! Those IDPs are used to monsoon rains in Sri Lanka. They used to spend the night in the jungles during last 30 years under LTTE. Nobody complained to anybody. Now everybody complains to everybody.”

Why are people being held in camps?

Whatever about the reality of conditions: Why is the government keeping people in these camps? Why are they not being allowed to return to their homes?

The government says it will take at least six months to make the areas from which they fled habitable again. The LTTE littered the area with land mines. The UN requires a 99.6% clearance rate before resettlement and that is a slow and expensive job. Houses need to be rebuilt and other facilities provided. The war has crippled the north and east for more than 30 years. The LTTE controlled the area but neglected the infrastructure.

Critics respond to that by saying that the government found the resources to build a new airfield so why can’t they move more quickly to re-house the IDPs?

Some cynics have suggested that preparations are being made for the tourist industry to steal land belonging to the IDPS. According to Naomi Klein similar things happened after the tsunami.

Access and security

Apart from the need to clear mines and rebuild infrastructure the government says the camps are necessary to weed out LTTE cadres who escaped with the refugees. Rohini Hensman has written: ”The IDPs came out cursing the Tigers and positively inclined towards the government forces which had helped them to escape, but with every day that they remain in detention, their hostility to the government will grow”. She argues that the LTTE’s military capability has been destroyed, its top leadership wiped out; for a group that was identified completely with its supreme leader Prabakharan, and was defined by its military prowess, this means that it is finished.

Recently-retired Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva has been regarded by some Sri Lankans as a check on the potentially despotic inclinations of the executive branch. He warned that the camps could lay the groundwork for a new war, since comparable discrimination against and persecution of Tamil civilians played a major role in starting the war which has just ended. He said the situation insults the soldiers who risked and in many cases lost their lives to free the civilians from the LTTE, and makes a mockery of celebrations of the end of the war.

On the other hand, Interhamwe infiltration and intimidation was a serious problem in the Rwandan camps in Goma. There have been recent reports of LTTE posters appearing in the Sri Lankan IDP camps. Some commentators have expressed fears of ”little tribes of people going underground and fighting guerrilla war”. These commentators believe that it is realistic for a government to consider that small groups could wreak havoc with random explosions in cities crippling the economy and compromising the safety of ordinary people.

Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told Parliament that some LTTE cadres had infiltrated the refugees and until they were filtered out,  the displaced people would be kept within the camps. He said that the government was determined to provide shelter, water, sanitation, food, healthcare, education and other ancillary services for these people. The Minister said that he was particularly concerned that human rights were adequately catered for.

A group of volunteers visting the camps who were quoted by the Tamil journalist DB Jeyaraj on his blog suggested the LTTE suspects in the camps were treated somewhat better than others: ”œThe LTTE detainees are housed in different locations. There are separate camps for boys and girls. There are around 9000 plus boys and 2000 plus girls. They are looked after quite well except when they protest or appear to get aggressive… The problem is that they need regular supplies and that they idle the whole day.”

There are many stories of LTTE soldiers escaping after bribing army, police or health personnel. Vavuniya District Tamil National Alliance MP, (the TNA were the mouthpiece in parliament for the LTTE) S Kishor, said he was aware that around 50,000 IDPs have escaped from the camps by paying money to police and army personnel. The Army is finding large stores of weapons, ammunition and explosives hidden by the LTTE in their former controlled areas and expects to recover more. Defence supremo, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, warned that this could be a part of a strategy to revive the LTTE.

Many of us living in Sri Lanka feared that, despite the defeat of the LTTE, children traveling to school on buses, people buying food in markets would continue to be maimed and killed. A friend who has often been vehement in her criticism of President Rajapaksa conceded: ”œI thank the President for finishing off the LTTE who did nothing for the Tamils here. They represented the Tamils overseas. I thank the President because we do not hear of any deaths anymore due to bombs. What a relief that is to those of us who live here.”

A recent visit to the camps by the President’s eldest son prompted heated exchanges in parliament. The Marxist JVP asked why opposition MPs are still not allowed access to the camps, accusing the government of trying to hide something. However, international and local humanitarian aid organizations have access to the camps to conduct their humanitarian work.

John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed journalists in Geneva following a mid-year review conference with Member States on the status of the 2009 consolidated humanitarian appeals. He said that the biggest problem in the Sri Lankan camps was not access, but the lack of freedom of movement of those in the camps. They should be able to move about even now, despite security concerns, so that these were IDP camps and not internment camps.

Adnan Khan, country director the World Food Programme (WFP), said: “Food supplies have never been affected by access restrictions.” He said that they were now able to move more freely within the camps.

Resettlement

The government says it will take at least six months to make the areas from which IDPs fled habitable again. The LTTE littered the area with land mines. India has already sent de-mining experts and the UK government has promised GBP 500,000 to the Mines Advisory Group.

Houses need to be rebuilt and other facilities provided. The LTTE controlled the area but neglected the infrastructure. The government plans to resettle, by the end of the year, at least 80% of those in the camps and to rehabilitate over 10,000 ex-LTTE cadres and thousands of families which had direct contacts with the LTTE.

The UNHCR described a previous re-settlement of 2,231 to seven villages in the Musali division, in the southern part of Mannar district, which at one time was controlled by the LTTE. ”The Government has applied good practices in IDP return…The process was carried out in safety and dignity.”

On 9 June, 2,120 Tamils and Muslims were re-settled. At the end of June, some 9,000 people 60 years old or above, were allowed to leave the camps and join their relatives. On 5 August, 1,100 people boarded 70 buses to return to Jaffna, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara in areas where de-mining, reconstruction of roads, supply of electricity and water were already completed. “I’m happy to go back to my own house. ”I never thought that we would be able to resettle in such a short period,” P. Sundaralingam told Reuters in Jaffna.

Recently-appointed head of the army Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya (I met him at a Christmas buffet at the Bandarawela Hotel some years ago, before he reached his current exalted position ”“ I believe he is related to my wife by marriage) said that the removal of high security zones in the Vavuniya area would facilitate the resettlement of civilians displaced during the war.

He said that Army engineers had been deployed to clear mines and other explosive devices. He said the Army was spearheading a two-pronged development programme in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. ‘People visiting Vavuniya could now see the difference as the Army had taken steps to relax security measures that had been in place for years’, the Commander said.

Jayasuriya said his main priority was speeding up de-mining efforts across 8,000 sq km so people could be resettled as soon as possible. He declined to give a time-frame. “I want to take engineering battalions that were in an infantry role to do de-mining. Right now there are 300 soldiers working with four non-governmental organisations to clear the mines.”

Jayasuriya has sent 400 more for training and is aiming to purchase demining machinery. Sri Lanka has given assurances that everything possible would be done to resettle the majority of the displaced by end of this year.

Chief of Defence Staff General Sarath Fonseka said: “We have the men and the material to meet any requirement,” he said, adding that the Army was also playing a major role in restoring the northern railway track. He said that the Army would have an important part to play in resettling the displaced and that the Army had contributed 36 million rupees to meet the urgent needs of children in the north.

He also said that those who had been critical of the Sri Lankan government had conveniently forgotten that the security forces spearheaded by the Army rescued 300,000 people held at gun point by the LTTE. Fonseka said allegations that over 20,000 civilians had perished in the final battle in and around Nanthikadal lagoon, were propaganda.

He ridiculed attempts to portray welfare centres set up in the north as detention camps. He said that the international community couldn’t find fault with Sri Lankan political and military leadership for taking on the LTTE. “What we did was right and we knew exactly what we were doing and there is absolutely no scope for an international inquiry,” he said.

Fonseka’s calls to add 100,000 troops after the war perturbed Western diplomats who wanted Sri Lanka to prioritise post-war redevelopment and not further militarisation, especially as it was seeking an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan at that time.

Jayasuriya takes a softer line: “”A little increase may be required. An increase of police or Special Task Force (police paramilitaries) would be much more beneficial. I think 20,000-50,000 would be fine. I think the government does not want to increase the budget. To hold and consolidate what we captured, you need more troops than you do to fight.”

Conclusion

Sanjana Hattotuwa wrote in The Sunday Leader: ”As a Southerner and a Sinhala Buddhist, I am ashamed of what we have become, and how we silently countenance, nay justify, this significant post-war violence against fellow Tamil citizens. We were silent patriots during war, because we thought they were all terrorists. We are silent patriots after war, because we think they must still be terrorists. Menik Camp is a litmus test of our real commitment to peace. We do not need more support to strengthen it. We need resources and the political will urgently to dismantle it.”

Canadian minister, Bev Oda, was encouraged by what she saw in the camps. ”This is not an ideal situation… I would say that in partnership with international organisations, the government of Sri Lanka is making very good efforts to meet the basic needs.”

The Tamil journalist, now resident in Canada, DB Jeyaraj has written: ”I ask readers not to engage in ethnic-orientated recrimination about the IDP plight. Please see a humanitarian tragedy as human beings and not as ethnic beings.”

UN representative visits Sri Lanka IDP camps

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.”

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