North: The next steps
Now that Northern liberation has been almost completed, in line with
the original mission of emancipating Tamil civilians in uncleared areas
in the Vanni, it is time to take stock of the challenges ahead.
The first priority will be eliminating all pockets of Tiger
resistance. Once this is completed, the resettlement of people who left
the area should begin. This will not be as easy as it sounds. The Forces
will have to clear anti-personnel mines planted by fleeing Tigers and
dismantle LTTE facilities.
Repairing damaged infrastructure is another essential requirement.
Homes, hospitals, schools, bus shelters, bridges, shops and many other
buildings have been damaged in the long years of the conflict. Some have
been razed to the ground. Repairing these will take time, yet life would
not be complete for those resettling in the Vanni if infrastructure
facilities were not available. Education and health must be given
Some forms of infrastructure simply do not exist in certain areas of
the North. Power, for instance. Even the most basic rights ad facilities
had been denied to those living in uncleared areas by the Tigers. The
North remains one of the poorest regions in the country thanks to the
protracted conflict. The authorities face a huge challenge in
re-developing the North.
The proposed re-opening of the A-9 Road after repairs will be a
lifeline for the North, as it will re-link the North and the South after
quite some time. Northern agriculture produce and other products can
freely be transported to the South with the opening of the A-9.
Northerners too will get easy access to many products that Southerners
now take for granted. With the reduction in transport costs, the prices
of goods in the North will go down.
The rail link to the North was destroyed by the LTTE, along with the
hopes of Northerners. The authorities must restore the rail link to KKS
via Jaffna. This will be a huge investment, but one that will be worth
every cent in the long run.
The Eastern Resurgence program is a good model for the North, though
one has to account for demographic, geographic and other differences.
The East was already more developed than the North, as nearly all the
main towns were under Government control anyway. Development has to
start virtually from scratch in most areas of the North.
Foreign aid and expertise will have to be obtained for the major
infrastructure projects and there already are expressions of interest.
The East has set another precedent - the swift restoration of
democracy. Local elections were held there first, followed by the
Provincial Council Election in the newly de-merged province. A special
feature was that nearly all of the elected representatives were from the
East itself - as opposed to being 'planted' from somewhere else. Again,
Easterners in the cleared areas have had exposure to elections from time
to time. In contrast, most Northerners who lived in uncleared areas have
never seen a polling station or a polling card. Democracy will be a new
experience and a new challenge. But the restoration of democracy and
pluralism - which were anathema to the LTTE - will be an inevitable
The restoration of civil administration goes hand in hand with the
inception of democracy. Everything from new police stations, post
offices to Grama Sevaka offices will have to be opened especially in the
newly cleared areas. Of course, Government machinery did function even
in the long-running LTTE bastions such as Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi.
The Government had the Government Agents, who played a pivotal role in
the distribution of food and relief materials sent by the Government and
international agencies. Hospitals and schools in uncleared areas were
maintained by the Government and staff salaries were paid. The
Government should continue these endeavours with even more vigour.
The LTTE being primarily a guerilla outfit will try to blend in with
the local population and stage small-scale attacks. We have seen
sporadic hit and run attacks by isolated LTTE cadres in the East. The
Forces must be primed to face this threat as well. It also goes without
saying that tight security will have to be maintained not only in the
North and the East but also in Colombo and elsewhere until the LTTE is
The biggest challenge, however, remains the restoration of peace in
the island. The LTTE always left the peace talks unilaterally citing
flimsy excuses. If a de-armed LTTE indicates a desire for talks, the
Government has said it would consider.
Right now, there is no other option for the LTTE than surrendering to
the Forces, giving up their Eelam campaign and entering the democratic
process. The annihilation of the LTTE has given the Government an
opportunity to work with forces other than the LTTE to evolve a
solution. The APRC process is also nearing completion, even though some
major parties were not represented.
These parties should enter the process of finding peace. The
liberation of the Northern and Eastern provinces would be in vain if it
does not lead to permanent peace.