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DateLine Sunday, 17 February 2008

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Victorious march towards the Wanni

Barely two years ago the thought of liberating the Eastern Province would have been considered a distant dream. Even the security of the Trincomalee harbour was in danger as the Tigers were in close proximity to launch attacks from the surrounding areas.

People in the East lived in mortal fear as many of them were under Velupillai Prabhakaran's iron-fist rule. Thanks to the great sacrifices and indomitable courage of our gallant soldiers, people in the East are now enjoying real freedom and liberation. It was certainly not Prabhakaran who liberated these innocent civilians but our brave Security Forces, through a series of humanitarian operations in Mavil Aru, Sampur, Vakarai and Thoppigala.

These people not only have the freedom to live but would also get an opportunity to exercise their democratic right as the Government gets ready for elections. First, it would be the local government elections in the Batticaloa District on March 10, followed by the Provincial Council elections.

The Government has paid special attention to develop the Eastern Province under the Eastern Reawakening program and the people in the East would soon enjoy the benefits of all these ventures. Many countries and international organisations have already become partners of the Eastern Reawakening.

Focus on the agro industry in the province could well be the key to the development in the East. Japan has granted an aid package of approximately Rs. 16.56 million for the restoration of agriculture as well as food security projects in the Batticaloa District under the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects (GGP) scheme.

These funds would be utilised to rehabilitate an irrigation channel and a tank, develop perennial crops and home gardening and construct 15 wells in the Vavunnathivu and Vakarai Divisional Secretariats to support the livelihoods of returnees. Following the Government's efforts to restore the livelihood of the people in Batticaloa affected by both the conflict and the tsunami, a large number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) has returned to their homes since March last year.

Since agriculture is the main industry in the area, these two projects will support the resettled communities to rebuild their livelihoods, benefiting several thousands of families. The benefits of the Eastern development would not only be confined to the people in the area but also for all across Sri Lanka as it could make a significant contribution for the development of many socio economic factors. A similar program could be implemented once the Government liberates the Northern Province. The Jaffna Peninsula is blessed with rich soil for cultivation and in the past, the farmers produced a significant volume of the country's onion and dried chillies.

Tamil civilians living in LTTE held areas in Mannar are undergoing untold hardships and continuous harassment from the terrorists. They have been forced to leave their homes where they had lived for many decades. Some escapees said that they had been forced to leave their homes and had sought protection from the Security Forces. The elders in one voice say that the LTTE was ruining their villages and that the villagers were living in constant fear of the LTTE as the Tigers can at any time take their lives if they refuse to carry out orders.

In this scenario, there are hardly any human rights organisations or members of the 'international community' to speak on their behalf. How many countries and human rights groups have condemned the LTTE terror attacks which killed eight innocent schoolboys from D.S. Senanayake College in Colombo and when the Tigers destroyed Thallady Catholic church due to shelling?

On the other hand, the United National Party continues its dirty politics. The Opposition does not live up to its true role. Instead, they try to take maximum political mileage out of every incident. What is most disconcerting is the UNP's failure to recognise the singular achievements of our Security Forces in the nation's drive against terrorism. Be it the SLFP, UNP, JVP, TNA or Hela Urumaya all should rally under one banner to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our motherland.

It is a pity that some of our opposition politicians, in their lust for power, make irresponsible statements that harms our national security.

Some of their statements made with ulterior motives provide the ammo for human rights organisations. We often witness many 'activities' by the so-called groups that claim to be the saviours of the media. But all what they do is to dance to the tune of the INGOs which fill their coffers. No other country, fighting a deadly terrorist organisation such as the LTTE would even dream of offering the media freedom they enjoy here. Even in countries such as the United States and UK, national security takes top priority.

As Minister Keheliya Rambukwella pointed out recently, some human rights watchdogs are clearly biased in their reporting and "were serving the interests of some other party's agenda". These organisations do little or nothing but foster terrorism. The time is now opportune to banish those INGOs, which either directly or indirectly act in a manner which harms national security as our brave forces intensify the battle against terrorism.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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