Govt. tells off nosy diplomats
Posted on August 24th, 2009

By Vindya Amaranayake Courtesy The Nation (Sri Lanka)

Responding to accusations of undue delays made by representatives from several Western countries, a senior governmental spokesman said yesterday that unless complete safety in the former conflict areas is ensured, the government will not hasten to resettle civilians.

“Resettling civilians in a former conflict zone cannot and should not be done in haste. We have to obtain a safety certificate from the United Nations to the effect that the areas are completely safe for the civilians to reside. One of the main requirements that need to be fulfilled when obtaining that certificate is to ensure that the areas are completely cleared of mines,” he said.

According to the spokesman, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) laid most of the mines in residential areas and farm lands and not so much in jungles, therefore making the resettlement process complicated and time consuming.

He explained that there are two types of mining “”…” military and humanitarian: “The Stage One in the de-mining is to clear the access road. This has already been done by the military, even while the operations were taking place. Just because the military moved into these areas that does not mean it is safe for the civilians to move in. For that humanitarian de-mining has to take place.”

The Second Stage is to clear the important places such as school buildings, hospital buildings, village tanks, etc. “This process is being done by the military at present. A special operation was conducted in the Madhu area “”…” 1km radius around the church “”…” for the people to attend Madhu Feast. We have marked that area and made sure that the people stayed away from the mined areas. We are now clearing the Iranamadu area,” the spokesman said.

It is in the Stage Three that clearing of residential areas takes place. According to the senior government representative, this was initiated soon after the conclusion of the military operation. “The president understood at that point that this is the main factor when ensuring resettlement. We made requests to other countries indicating the need for de-mining. Only India responded positively. Two Indian companies came. They sent in more groups later,” he said.

De-mining is not the only factor that needs to be considered in this process. It needs to be ensured that the people have the basic facilities such as roads, water, electricity and other infrastructure facilities.

He pointed out that Sri Lanka has the best record for resettlement: “We resettled the 40,000 displaced in Muttur in 40 days, and resettled 85% of the displaced in the Eastern Province within 90 days. I must add that this was done during the times when the northern operation was still taking place. We took a big security risk and resettled the displaced people.”

The senior spokesman charged that as of this moment, the United States has not extended any support towards clearing up the mined areas in the north. He made this comment as a response to the statement issued by the US State Department representative for South Asia, Robert O Blake who claimed that the delay in resettling thousands displaced in the north would seriously affect US funding for Sri Lanka.

“I would like to ask Robert O Blake whether the US government has finished resettling the people who were displaced in the Hurricane Katrina? They could not even resettle that number. Those people are still living in trailer parks. In Kabul, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced since the US invasion in 2001. In Iraq it is the same. First Blake must give attention to this people,” the spokesman charged.

He continued that the US has never, during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time “”…” or even before that “”…” given any bilateral funds for Sri Lanka. “According to a Treasury official, apart from the tsunami funds, the US has never given us any bilateral funds. They have given us multilateral funds, either through the WFO or other UN agencies. But only one third of those funds actually reach them, with the rest being the administrative and other costs.”

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