Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Government now says no deadline to resettle IDPs

Olindhi Jayasundara - The government, despite earlier giving a pledge to resettle al the displaced people by the end of next month, now says there is no deadline for the resettlement of the Internally Displaced People (IDP) who are in camps in Vavuniya.

“We did not promise to complete the resettling process on a particular date. However, the Government is working hard towards completing the process as soon as possible,” he said.

He said that 100,000 IDPs still remain in the camps whilst 20,000 have been granted freedom of movement from the camps. The Minister said that the Government has organized ‘go and see visits’ for the IDPs to enable them to visit their homes and allow them to decide if they wish to remain in their home towns or otherwise.

“If they want to return to their homes, then they may. However, if they wish otherwise we will make other arrangement for them,” he said.

Minister Samarasinghe said that he could not comment on what would happen to the camps once all the IDPs are resettled in their homes, but said that the permanent structures once vacant will most likely be utilized for some purpose.

A Sri Lankan delegation had, earlier this month, assured India that it would resettle all internally displaced persons (IDPs) of Tamil origin by the end of January. The three-member delegation consisted of Senior Adviser to the President, Basil Rajapaksa; Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

© Daily Mirror

Related Links:
Tamils refugees in SL to be resettled by Jan 2010 - PTI

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sri Lanka: Minority dilemma

B. Muralidhar Reddy - The Tamil and Muslim minorities, who account for almost 18 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population, are in a dilemma on the options before them for the January 26 presidential election. They have three distinct choices: cast their lot with President Mahinda Rajapaksa; vote General Sarath Fonseka, the recently retired former Army chief who is backed by prominent opposition parties; or field their own nominee.

Their predicament is understandable as it was their decision to stay away from the last election, albeit under orders from Velupillai Prabakaran, the slain chief of the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), that placed Rajapaksa in the saddle. Once again, they are being coaxed and courted to take a call and be the kingmakers.

However, there is one fundamental difference between now and November 2005. Unlike during the previous election, today the minorities are theoretically agents of their own will. But, in reality it is a myth despite the best efforts of the parties that claim to represent them.

For the first time since the country’s independence 48 years ago, representatives of the Tamil and Muslim parties, including the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), met (between November 20 and 22) in Zurich, Switzerland, to take stock of the situation.

Although there was no fixed agenda, the objective of the conference was to arrive at a “common ground” and decide the future course of action. But it took place on an inauspicious note. The pro-LTTE TamilNet did not take kindly to the conference and denounced it as yet another conspiracy. In a feature titled “Tamil, Muslim political parties find their table in Zurich”, the website said: “The move is said to be for ‘extracting’ a joint proclamation of them necessary for further power manoeuvres in the island. A couple of years ago it was such a behind-the-scenes move of some powers that made most of these parties, except the TNA, rally behind Mahinda Rajapaksa and pledge support to him in the war that brought in disaster to the Tamils.”

It mattered little to TamilNet that it was an extraordinary development. It is unfortunate given the unprecedented consensus arrived at in Zurich to develop an effective common programme to hold the government accountable for the protection of minorities and to act as a serious and dependable negotiating party representing the demands of the minorities in the development of meaningful proposals for reform in the island nation.

This has to be seen against the reality that the three minority communities (ethnic Tamils, Tamils of Indian origin and Muslims) have nursed grudges against the majority Sinhala community, the political establishment of the day, as well as between themselves. Political parties representing these groups are divided on many lines, and their affiliations vis-a-vis the majority parties are varied. Some are with the government, some with the opposition and others in-between.

Of the three communities, Muslims believe that they are the victims of majority as well as minority politics and for good reason. The minority Muslim community constitutes the oldest category of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka.

About 90,000 Muslim IDPs have been languishing in temporary government-run welfare centres in Puttalam since 1990. They were evicted forcibly from the North by the LTTE weeks after the last soldier of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) left Sri Lankan shores. Suspecting their loyalties, the Tigers robbed them of their land and valuables. An outfit championing the cause of the minorities treated a minority community living in the territory under its control in a callous manner.

The Puttalam refugees, who number one-third of those displaced in Eelam War IV, have so far figured as a footnote in the ongoing debate on post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka. The Tamil diaspora is silent on the subject and the international community behaves as if they do not exist.

Weeks after the Norway-brokered 2002 Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) between the Ranil Wickremesinghe government and the LTTE, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Rauf Hakeem, signed a pact with Prabakaran that guaranteed the right of return for Muslims to LTTE-controlled areas. It remained on paper.

In its 2007 report titled “Sri Lanka’s Muslims: Caught in the Crossfire”, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organisation think tank, said that immediate steps should be taken to ensure the security and political involvement of Muslims if a lasting peace settlement was to be achieved.

Developments thus far suggest that the spirit of Zurich evaporated even before the ink on the joint statement had dried. The joint statement said: “We.., Affirm the historic meeting enabling an exchange of views, and express a full commitment to a common forum among representatives of all Tamil-speaking peoples;

“Recognise ‘Tamil-speaking peoples’ comprises three distinct peoples: Tamils, Muslims, and Tamils of Indian origin; Respect the distinct and separate identities, interests and positions of the parties;

“Recognise and affirm the need for unity and consensus among the Tamil-speaking peoples while acknowledging differences with regard to some issues and the paths to pursue them….” A press release said the parties agreed to a “just and durable political solution” in the island through a dignified, respectful and peaceful process and agreed to continue the discussions.

That the minorities are caught in a catch-22 situation became all the more evident when Mano Ganeshan, leader of Sri Lanka’s Western People’s Front (WPF) and Member of Parliament from Colombo district, disclosed in a write-up on Groundviews, a Sri Lankan citizen journalism initiative, that his party had sent a questionnaire to General Fonseka and was awaiting his response. He said that as a party representing the oppressed Tamil minorities, the WPF maintained dialogue with all sources. “We will be wiped off if we refuse to answer all the calls we receive. We cannot be another LTTE. We value engagements.”

For right or wrong reasons, Ganeshan was the first to line up behind Fonseka and, of course, with adequate reasoning and safeguards, such as the decision of his party to keep the line of communication open with the TNA. He went a step further and beseeched the Tamils in the North and East to cast their second preferential vote to Fonseka.

Kumar David, an expatriate Sri Lankan, wondered in an article titled “Rewriting history at breakneck speed”:

“It comes as no surprise that feral dogs have been unleashed to tear out throats and gouge out eyes; the surprise is that it has happened so quickly. Six months ago portraits of the heroic troika were carried through the nation’s streets in glorious victory pageants. After three years of murders, abductions, impunity in the criminal abuse of state power, and a civil war, the insanity has reached its apogee in the events of the last few weeks. Sri Lanka has become surreal; pinch yourself, wake-up, is all this really happening?”

© Frontline

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Epoch Making Year for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka ushered in a new era of peace in 2009 with the annihilation of LTTE and the death of its megalomaniac chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, whose pursuit for 'Tamil Eelam' claimed the lives of over 70,000 people in three decades.

For India, it was a tight rope walk as it quickly stepped in after the end of the civil war by announcing a Rs 500 crore package to Sri Lanka for rehabilitation and resettlement of nearly 3 lakh displaced Tamil civilians.

New Delhi also told Colombo to quickly follow up the military victory with a political solution to integrate the Tamil minority into the mainstream.

The military win over LTTE came as a shot in the arm for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who gave a free run to the Army to take on the terror group after he came to power in 2005, when one-third of Lankan land was held by the Tigers.

The victory prompted Rajapaksa to call Presidential polls nearly two years ahead of schedule apparently to cash in on the sentiments.

But, it will not be a cake walk for Rajapaksa as he is being challenged by another 'war hero' and former Army Chief Gen Sarath Fonseka, who is contesting as the common opposition candidate.

Fonseka resigned as Chief of Defence Staff, a ceremonial post to which he was appointed after the war, in November and jumped into the Presidential poll foray.

Votes of over three million Tamils and Tamil speaking Muslims are considered crucial for Rajapaksa to continue in office for another six years.

The Tamil National Alliance, which has a considerable influence among Tamils, has not yet decided on its stand in the polls.

Though Sri Lanka has resettled nearly 2 lakh people in their towns and villages in the former LTTE-held areas in the island's north, reconstruction of the areas and rehabilitation of people are yet to begin.

The year gone-by was fruitful for Sri Lanka, which was grappling with the menace of terrorism since late 70s, as the troops began the year with the capture of Kilinochchi, the de-facto capital of the Tamil Tigers, on January 2.

This was the beginning of the end of the LTTE as it lost all its strongholds in the north-east in the next few months culminating in the death of all top leaders of the outfit, including Prabhakaran on May 18.

It ended the 30-year-old civil war that claimed the lives of 70,000 people and annihilated the LTTE, which had eliminated a number of high-profile Sri Lankan Sinhala and Tamil politicians, besides Rajiv Gandhi.

Just two days after the war ended, India sent two of its top officials -- National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and the then Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon -- to Colombo to assure Sri Lanka of its support in resettlement and rehabilitation process.

New Delhi has also impressed upon Sri Lanka a number of times to quickly follow up the military victory with a political solution that is acceptable to the minority Tamil community.

India has also promised help for Sri Lanka in railway projects and reviving agriculture in the former war zones.

A high-level Sri Lankan team consisting of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Presidential Adviser Basil Rajapaksa was in New Delhi twice to discuss the relief and rehabilitation process.

India also opposed a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva demanding a probe against Sri Lanka into alleged human rights violation during the last phase of war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has assured that the government will make every effort to resettle all Tamil IDPS by January 31.

India has indicated more funds for rehabilitation of the IDPs. It a had sent 2.5 lakh family packs consisting of dry ration, clothing, utensils and footwear from Tamil Nadu to displaced civilians since October 2008.

India will be sending three more de-mining teams even as four such teams are already there, as per the recommendation of the parliamentary delegation from Tamil Nadu which visited Sri Lanka in October.

© Outlook India

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sri Lanka takes more time to study war crime charges

Sri Lanka's president has given legal experts four more months to study a US State Department report cataloging alleged war crimes on the island, the presidency said in a statement Monday.

President Mahinda Rajapakse extended the December 31 deadline of the panel he appointed in November to formulate a response to the US report, which accused Sri Lankan forces of war crimes while battling Tamil separatists.

"The president has... extended by four months the period given to the committee to study and report on the US State Department Report," the president's office said in a statement.

A recent query by the United Nations over remarks by the country's former army chief Sarath Fonseka that some surrendering rebels were killed in cold blood was also being referred to the panel for study, the statement said.

Sri Lanka's foreign ministry has already dismissed the US report as "unsubstantiated and devoid of corroborative evidence."

Sri Lanka has been under international pressure to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes during the final stages of its battle against the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were defeated in May.

Among claims detailed in the US report was the accusation that Tiger leaders were executed after reaching a surrender agreement with government forces.

Fonseka, who is challenging Rajapakse in a January 26 election, has said he was given information about the alleged killing of the surrendering rebels by an unnamed state media reporter embedded with troops.

Fonseka said he himself was away in China at the time of the incident.

Sri Lanka's then foreign secretary Palitha Kohona had earlier said the rebel leaders were killed by their own men while they tried to surrender during the final days of fighting.


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