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Sunday, 29 November 2009

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A beacon of light for IDPs

* As at November 25, 2009 the number of Internally Displaced Persons remain at Welfare Centres 128,616.

* Total number of people released from welfare centres and resettled 139,131.



Are you happy at home? - President Mahinda Rajapaksa inquires from an elderly villager at Mulankavil

Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa M.P. and Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister Rishad Bathiudeen during a visit to Vavuniya IDP Welfare Centre


Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, NP Governer Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri and Vanni Security Froces Commander Maj.Gen. Kamal Gunaratne during a development progress review meeting at Vavuniya.

It was May 14, 2009. It was the height of the battle against LTTE terrorists and the Sri Lanka Army was manoeuvring their operations with utmost care. It was not just a war against LTTE, the core issue was to rescue the unarmed civilians trapped in the last `No Fire Zone' in Puthumathalan. Thousands of people waded through the Nandikadal Lagoon carrying the weak-children, elders, sick and pregnant mothers with them. The LTTE fired using the deadly paddle gun, targeting the civilian landing point on the other side of the lagoon where the soldiers took them to safety.

The fight was not against Tamil civilians. It was purely to 'purge' LTTE terrorism forever. Encountering enormous difficulties the civilians escaped the impenetrable LTTE obstacles.

Soldiers saved the lives of over 283,000 civilians (91,000 families) during the time spanning from mid November, 2008 to mid May 2009. Soldiers never took these civilians as a burden. They even gave their own food to these escapees and cared for the sick and the weak alike.

The biggest challenge

The large influx of people within a short span was the first greatest challenge the Government faced during this time. It was a formidable task for the Government. "Though the exodus of civilians was not easily manageable yet such sort of a situation was nothing new to the Government," said Chandra Fernando, Presidential Advisor on North and East and Senior member of the Presidential Task Force on Northern Development explaining that the experience gained from the Eastern Revival was significant at this juncture.

"Every detail was pre-planned to ensure the safety of the IDPs adhering to the Geneva Convention to which Sri Lanka is a signatory. We were ready to receive the Internally Displaced Persons and what we did not know was only the actual number of the target group," he explained.

Parallel to these events de-mining was initiated. The utmost importance in the Northern Development is security, protection and human rights.

De-mining

At the initial stage the Government relied on the Sri Lanka Army to expedite the de-mining process so as to create areas suitable for human habitation. Several other Non-Governmental organizations are engaged in the de-mining process now expecting to complete areas set apart for them. The 'Sappers' - the Engineering Corps of the Sri Lanka Army has already completed its mission. Their dedication to the job was a good back up for the Government's mega resettlement programme.

According to Presidential Advisor Chandra Fernando seven International agencies were entrusted with the task of de-mining locations earmarked by the Government. The entire development drive, which is now on full swing, is entirely conducted under the guidance of Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa.

Fernando further said that as the de-mining agencies had to train local staff according to the requirements, the process was rather slow. With the intervention of the Sri Lanka Army 'Sappers', the situation was improved. Next step was to purchase de-mining machines to speed up the process in order to start resettlement. At present, a total of 25 de-mining machines are in operation in the North.

"The Task Force works on the four D's," Fernando explained. "Demilitarization, Development, Democratization and Devolution! This is the basic principle we follow in the Wadakkin Wasantham program," he added.

Streamlining facilities


A temporary school in Cheddikulam Welfare Centre

At Pudukudiyiruppu soldiers taking an old, woman to a safety location during the final stages of the war

IDPs waiting to return to their homes

Children’s playground at a welfare centre

Receiving medical treatment

Due to the prolonged exposure to terrorism the Northern Administration was severely handicapped. In order to streamline the facilities provided to the IDPs the Government appointed Major General G.A. Chandrasiri as the Competent Authority for IDPs with effect from April 23, 2009.

When Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri was appointed the Governor Northern Province, Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunarathne, the Wanni Security Forces Commander, was appointed as the Competent Authority for IDPs.

The Government took all necessary measures to streamline the support network for the IDPs. Six welfare villages were set up in Menik Farm, situated along the Mannar-Vavuniya Road by the Government and later the International Non-Governmental Organisations provided assistance.

"The local authorities of the Northern Province were facing threats from the LTTE and they feared working openly and freely before the end of the war," Maj. Gen. Chandrasiri said.

"Eliminating terrorism was significant in the restoration of civil administration in the Province," he reiterated.

The resettlement of new IDPs was initiated on March, 2009. Elderly people over 60 were given permission to leave the centres to join their next of kin. So far, 9,633 elderly men and women have been released. Orphaned children were taken care of, by the Government in directing them to children's homes and to the families of their next of kin.

A total of 1,064 children were living among the IDPs without their lawful guardians. As there were University students living among the IDPs the authorities took the decision to release all of them.

349 youth were sent back to the Universities with special arrangements made for them.

Today around 139,131 people have been resettled in almost all the districts of the Northern Province. As at November 25, the total number of IDPs sheltered in Welfare centres is 128,616.

All these people are provided with the proper Identity Cards on President Mahinda Rajapaksa's directive restriction placed on the movement of these people, out of their Welfare Centres, has is been lifted with effect from December 1. The Government is in the process of resettling all IDPs before end of January, 2010.

The initial resettlement started in Musali Divisional Secretariat Division in Mannar.

The resettlement was based on three stages as per the plans of the Presidential Task Force on Northern Development - i.e. Road clearing, De-mining and Repairing and rebuilding damaged public buildings. Police stations are being set up in each town leaving the security forces only in strategic locations.

One major effect of the war is the creation of vulnerable groups who lost their sustenance. Economically deprived people who find it difficult to satisfy their minimum basic requirements are in a vulnerable position. They include the landless poor farmers, casual workers and daily wage earners.

With the elimination of terrorism the degree of vulnerability declined thus making a favourable environment for resettling people to allow them to re-engage in their normal economic activities in the agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries and other informal sectors.

This definitely ensures the dignity of these settlers. Facilitating restoration of sustainable livelihood through opening income avenues and providing other ancillary services, is in the main focus.

The Sri Lankan Government initiated the task of rebuilding the entire war torn North while the Sri Lanka Army continued their humanitarian mission entering the last stages of the war in the Pudukuduyirippu, Puthumathalan and Vellamullivaikkal general areas in the Northeastern corner of the Mullaitivu district. Today the entire area is clear from all traces of terrorism.

The area is getting back to proper shape shedding the ugly hostages of war. It is the soldier who makes the land suitable for the habitation of its original settlers.

It's a new era speeding towards a prosperous nation. At this juncture Sri Lanka needs to launch its post war reconstruction priorities at an accelerated pace. Having faced the huge task of developing the entire Northern Province following the return of the East to the national mainstream, the Government has given the top priority to the development drive in the rest of the country.

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