Saturday, September 26, 2009

JVP activist remanded for displaying a banner

Danister Gunasekera ,the owner of the premises, where the JVP displayed a Hoarding with the slogan ‘Is this the Democracy of the maha jara Rajapakse Govt.?’ was remanded for 14 days on charges of attempting to bring contempt on Govt.,according to JVP sources.

The JVP put this Board up in protest at 153/1/13 Aluthgoda, Tangalle after its elections office which was run legitimately by it at this premises was last 18th, destroyed by the PA hooligans and goons.

This office was run by the Hambantota District JVP group leader Wahalatantri after the Tangalle Police Station Chief gave permission. But on the 18th, it was attacked. The Tangalle Police took the owner into custody on 24th night however for displaying the Board.

Wahalatantri said, the Police is not taking any action for the complaints made by them against the destruction of the election office and acts of violence, neither is it allowing them to conduct their election activities democratically.

© Campaign for Free and Fair Elections

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Time Running Out for Sri Lanka's IDPs

Bart Beeson and Annalise Romoser - Everywhere in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, posters featuring smiling soldiers holding rocket launchers and machine guns celebrate the recent end to the nation's 26-year civil war. But in the government-run camps that still house more than 250,000 ethnic Tamils displaced by the war's fighting, the mood is far from celebratory.

In late August, heavy rains at the largest camp, Manik, flooded tents and led to unsanitary conditions. According to aid worker K Thampu, "The situation was heartbreaking. Tents were flooded and mothers, desperate to keep their children dry during the night, took chairs and tables from school facilities for them to sleep on."

Rains also caused toilets to flood, with worms covering large swaths of ground near latrines, says Thampu. At stake, according to local experts, is not only the immediate welfare of camp residents, but chances for long-lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

Most of the internally displaced people (IDPs) have been living in the camps since May, when they fled the intense fighting that marked the final battle between government forces and the insurgent group known as the Tamil Tigers. Publicly, the Sri Lankan government has committed to returning IDPs to their homes by November of this year, and several thousand people have been released from camps to live with relatives. But the government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa also maintains that others must remain in camps until the area around their former homes is cleared of mines. At the same time, government representatives are slowly screening camp residents to identify former combatants.

Aid workers and local experts agree that the government must move quickly, for several reasons. The most urgent among them is monsoon season, which starts at the end of September and will only exacerbate the already difficult camp conditions. More tents and toilets will flood, increasing the risk of communicable and mosquito-born diseases.

"We saw how bad things got after the recent rains, which only lasted 3 or 4 days," says Thampu, who works for the Baltimore-based humanitarian organization Lutheran World Relief. "Imagine how bad they will get once the monsoons are upon us."

In addition to the rains, long-standing tensions between Tamils and the Sinhalese-led government remain, even if the armed insurgency has been defeated. Many worry that if the government does not act quickly to return people to their homes, it will lead to new problems in northern Sri Lanka.

Thampu says that many teenagers in the camps are already frustrated. "Young people have told me, 'We have no freedom to talk, no protection, no education, no recreation and no employment! Everything looks like hell in our life. What do we have to live for?'"

Despite living in a warzone, many teenagers were able to pass the university entrance exams. But now they cannot leave the camps to begin their studies. Thampu adds, "Victory has been declared, but what does that mean for them? It is important to give them a new start in life."

According to T Thevathas, another aid worker in Manik Camp, "Peace and security in the north is the most important thing to consider. People have been waiting 30 years for this, but IDPs in the camps feel no security and have no peace of mind despite the government's victory."

Thevatas notes that for real advances to be made in the north, it is crucial for Tamils in the camp to feel that the national government is working on their behalf. "At this point," he says, "IDPs have placed all their hopes for return on local governments and the international community."

Bernard Jaspers Failer, of the aid organization ZOA Refugee Care, acknowledges that the Sri Lankan government has genuine security concerns. "But," he is quick to add, "those have to be balanced with the fact that the longer people remain in camps, new frustrations are being generated which will have long-term impacts on society."

The Sri Lankan government has strictly regulated access to the camps. But those organizations and governmental representatives who have been able to visit have expressed concern over the conditions. Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights organization, has said that the government "is threatening [IDPs'] health and even their lives by keeping them there during the rainy season floods."

U.S. officials have also put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to allow camp residents to return home. In comments made on Aug. 19, Eric Schwartz, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the State Department, said the "involuntary confinement is especially a source of concern given the recent rains and given the coming of the monsoon season, and it makes it all the more important that release from confinement be an issue that friends of Sri Lanka continue to raise."

In an effort to expedite the process, on July 27, the U.S. announced an additional $8 million in aid to assist in the return of IDPs to their homes in northern Sri Lanka.

With the monsoon season rapidly approaching, and frustration levels on the rise within the camps, local experts agree that time is a critical factor. For Thampu, it is "a situation where a successful return process would be a giant step towards long-lasting peace. But if these people who were forced from their homes are forced to stay in camps, it could result in increased tensions for the down the road."

While the Sri Lankan government has made moves to release some of the most vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly and disabled, aid workers and the U.S. government alike agree that the return process must be accelerated. For the people in the camps, their return home will mark an end to war in Sri Lanka. And, as T Thevathas notes, "It will finally provide relief from the fears they endured during war and continue to feel in the camps today."

Bart Beeson is a freelance journalist and campaign organizer focusing on politics and the environment in Latin America. Annalise Romoser is a freelance journalist who oversees Washington, D.C.-based advocacy efforts related to human rights and rural development in Latin America and Africa.

© World Politics Review

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