Three lakh IDPs pose a challenge to Lanka

In Perspective

Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse has appointed Major Gen Daya Ratnayake, a seasoned Sri Lanka Army officer as the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. The appointment was made as part of Rajapakse’s 180-day resettlement plan for the 3,00,000 Internally Disturbed Persons (IDPs) from the recently concluded civil war.

A brilliant strategist, General Ratnayake was once the commander of the 223 brigade at Welikanda, Polonnaruwa during the height of the LTTE-Karuna conflict in the districts of Batticaloa and Ampara in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Ratnayake has his work cut out for him. Around 9,750 LTTE cadres, mainly mid-level and softcore, require immediate rehabilitation.

These cadres are walking about freely inside army camps doing odd jobs and running errands and being fed three meals a day in return without any plan for their future. The vast majority of these cadres have received the LTTE's ‘ten-day training.’ More such cadres are being discovered at the rate of around five a day from the IDP camps.

Lurking danger
Some of these cadres had taken part in the burial of LTTE arms caches throughout the North. If any of these cadres are reenlisted by what remains of the LTTE after they are resettled, a potentially deadly insurgency could arise.

Sri Lankans living in Colombo some time back would remember the terror unleashed by a handful of underworld gangs armed with a few T-56 assault rifles that came from the war zone. A low-level LTTE insurgency could be 10 times more destructive than that. The buried LTTE arms caches include suicide jackets, plastic explosives, claymore mines, 130mm heavy artillery, 80mm mortar bombs and launchers, rocket propelled grenades and a variety of small arms and ammunition that could potentially sustain an insurgency for decades. Therefore it is imperative that firstly the remaining trained manpower of the LTTE is diverted towards peaceful means of livelihood while, at the same time, hidden caches of weapons are recovered systematically.

It is sad to note that many in the human rights lobby and the international community are keen to see rapid IDP resettlement but have very little to say on these matters.

There are no quick-fixes to the Sri Lankan conflict. This is true even now — after fighting has ceased. Similarly, the three lakh IDPs cannot be subjected to a quick fix resettlement without proper security procedures being followed. After all, it’s been only two and a half months since military operations ended.

The status of the civilians in IDP camps is an unfortunate outcome of a 30-year war. This is not the plight of the Tamil people in general, in Sri Lanka. Any attempts to generalise their plight to the status of millions of Tamils living peacefully in Sinhala areas of Sri Lanka must be discouraged as a covert threat to the country’s fragile peace and co-existence.

The government of Sri Lanka has a heavy load to carry in the coming months to finish what it started three years ago. There is a serious need for rapid infrastructure development in the war-torn areas without which rapid resettlement is next to impossible. Roads and small by roads have been ripped apart by military machines moving up and down them.

Many small towns and villages have been abandoned for almost three years and are now overgrown with vegetation. Wherever the two armies confronted each other or when fighting raged in built-up areas, there were severe damages to civil infrastructure.

There is little or no civil administration in the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu at present either at the village or district-level. These areas are still under tight military control as small Sri Lanka army teams search endlessly for mines, Unexploded Ordnance (UXOs) and caches of LTTE weapons.

Although the situation looks generally bleak from the outside, there are some positive developments made under Rajapakse’s unorthodox leadership. It is encouraging to note that the government’s attention has not been completely diverted by the ongoing elections and that it is taking steps to address what was formerly and, still to a great degree, Sri Lanka’s main issue — the ethnic conflict. It is also encouraging to note Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbours in particular, united in their resolve to help this small nation emerge from the ruin.

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