Re: Tamil Camps | New York Times

An editorial in the New York Times, published on 15 July 2009, says the resettlement of the displaced in Sri Lanka is "dragging on far too long."

The New York Times quotes a Tamil politician who says holding these displaced civilians in camps and restricting their movement is "asking for another conflict later on down the road.”

Before Sri Lankans dismiss this as being too harshly worded, less than 60 days after the end of hostilities. We must ask ourselves if this could indeed cause enough resentment amongst the displaced, and cause more of a divide between these displaced Tamils and the rest of Sri Lanka.

We should not forget these people were staunch supporters of the Tigers, and for years they felt that they were not a part of Sri Lanka. They were citizens of Eelam.

The Tigers restricted their movement and only exposed them to information that portrayed the Tigers as their freedom fighters. The Sri Lankan government and Mahinda Rajapakse was their mortal enemy not too long ago.

During the final days of the conflict the tables turned. Wanni residents realised that the Tigers were using them as a human shield. The displaced who fled even spoke of how the Tigers sold Red Cross aid, and only those who had money got food. The Tigers starved them and shot at them when they attempted to flee.

The enemy became their liberators.

If the displaced are left in the dark about why their movement is restricted, and if the displaced don't understand the logic behind what is going on, there is a good chance that resentment will breed.

The government must address the displaced, and explain to them exactly what is going on.

They must understand that in order for them to return to their villages:

  • De-mining must be completed.

  • Tiger combatants amongst them have to be identified in order to ensure law and order can be maintained when they return to their villages.

  • What is frustrating is that the international media - as is evident in the NYT editorial - is truly clueless about the progress made, and the current administration's goals and targets for the displaced.

    72 hours hasn't passed since Time Magazine published it's interview with Mahinda Rajapakse.

    Not a week has passed since the Indian daily, The Hindu, published it's interview with Rajapakse.

    In both published interviews the question of the displaced was put to Rajapakse. The New York Times didn't need to do a whole lot to research this.

    "Over 300,000 people are in the IDP camps. The whole area [former conflict zone and homes of the displaced] is mined. We must de-mine the whole area, give basic facilities, water, electricity, roads, resettle them," was Rajapakse's response when the Time Magazine correspondent asked him what his priorities were.

    "In 180 days, we want to settle [re-settle] most of these people," the president added.

    To the Hindu, Rajapakse said: "We know there are shortcomings. Slowly, we have to overcome them. In some camps there are no problems. What these people I sent told me: they are satisfied with the housing, the shelter. They have undergone much worse conditions earlier [under the Tamil Tiger control]. Their problem is movement, freedom of movement. Since there are security concerns, I don’t know how to do that immediately."

    Also read: "I can’t let this become like Baghdad," says Sri Lankan President Rajapakse.

    I wrote previously about certain members from international aid groups who felt that pressure on Sri Lanka and depriving the needy would be the best way to force the government into resettling the displaced quickly.

    There was an aid worker who was quoted by the media as saying that helping the displaced with food and medical aid was "perverse." The anonymous aid worker, speaking to a prominent publication, thought that helping the displaced - within the walls of these camps - will keep them imprisoned for longer.

    It is unfortunate that the New York Times shares similar sentiments.

    Thankfully, Obama's administration thinks otherwise. The US approach to Sri Lanka has changed. Hillary Clinton and her pal David Milliband's approach of bossing Sri Lanka around has been tossed out the window.

    Charge d’Affaires, USA in Sri Lanka, James R. Moore recently handed over a large consignment of food aid and medical supplies for all 300,000 displaced.

    He reaffirmed the Obama administration's support in aiding Sri Lanka resettle the displaced.

    The US realises forcing people, or pressuring people into making decisions that they will have to live with for generations, serves no positive purpose.

    As a Sri Lankan who has lived half his life on the island, and the other half in parts of North America and Europe, I have come to understand that any foreign national who visits Sri Lanka in hopes of assisting it's people, come here with a sense of being superior than the rest. This can also give some the notion that they know best.

    This is the same mentality being displayed by some members of prominent aid agencies. The displaced Tamil citizens are forced to use holes in the ground as lavatories, with no privacy, because the international aid groups - who are responsible for building toilets under an agreement with the government - feel that a somewhat decent lavatory is a permanent structure.

    According to their logic four wooden planks and a roof, which will not only provide a degree of privacy, but also help contain the spread of diseases, will slow the resettlement of the displaced.

    Resettling the displaced quickly due to the fear of breeding anger and hate, without worrying about their well being on a minefield is hard to grasp.

    Does the hate and anger not grow when you have to stand for four hours to use a lavatory? Would you not be full of hate if you were forced to relieve yourself in horrible conditions, and then whisked away to your former village which is heavily mined?

    I don't think Sri Lanka should rush into returning the displaced. I couldn't forgive the decision makers if I read reports of Tamil kids losing limbs on a daily basis due to land mines and unexploded shells.

    I would be equally distraught if Tiger combatants managed to return to their villages and carried out attacks in other parts of the island. Sri Lanka is not only de-mining the conflict zone. It is also conducting search operations for hidden Tamil Tiger weapons dumps.

    In general, there is always a logical explanation for most decisions made in Sri Lanka.

    I admit, however, that the Sri Lankan administration won't score too many points in the PR department. They are not good communicators, and most officials struggle to get their message across.

    I respectfully ask you to not let that fool you into feeling more superior than us Sri Lankans, or even think you know what's good for us.

    As president President Rajapakse put it:

    "It's my citizens. I am responsible for them. I have to protect them and get them out."

    " They are my people, they are my voters ... The international community must help the government if a government is elected properly by the people."

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