Ripping off the oxygen mask, the British way
Posted on October 8th, 2009

The Island Editorial (Courtesy The Island  News Paper in Sri Lanka)

In January 2008, during a trade union dispute at the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital, some members of the warring parties adopted a novel yet despicable method of winning their demands and opened, in the process, a new low in trade union action. They removed the oxygen masks of critically ill patients gasping for breath in the Intensive Care Unit and hid life saving drugs! It looks as if the British government had taken a leaf out of those heartless health workers’ book.

All visiting foreign dignitaries who gain access to the Vanni IDP centres never fail to describe the conditions prevailing there as appalling. But, the UK Development Minister Mike Foster, who visited the Menik Farm, the biggest of all welfare centres for the war displaced, the other day, made a shocking announcement. When the monsoon rains were over, he said, Britain would drastically reduce funds for the displaced!

What Britain does with its taxpayers’ money is its business and no foreign government can demand British aid as of right. (Anyway, the Sri Lankan government has not received a single penny from the British Government for the welfare centres; Britain has granted 12.5 mn pounds sterling to the UN system and some INGOs notorious for massive overheads by way of helping the Vanni IDPs! It may be argued that the proposed fund cut is an attempt at stepping up pressure on the Sri Lankan government to let go of IDPs, but, unfortunately, in so doing Britain is using the hapless displaced persons as a bludgeon!

The UN also resorted to the same dirty tactic, misled by the anti-Sri Lankan propagandists. It did not back the government’s plan to put up semi-permanent shelters with proper infrastructural facilities for the war displaced. For, LTTE sympathizers floated rumours that the government was planning to confine IDPs to the welfare centres permanently or to use those facilities, after the resettlement of IDPs, to colonise the Vanni with Sinhala settlers. Had there been better infrastructure in the IDP villages, the question of monsoon rains posing a threat to the displaced would not have arisen at all.

Meanwhile, the frustrated economic refugees in the affluent West, who funded the LTTE’s terrorist war from a safe distance while living in clover with their families, the way Prabhakaran did in the Vanni; political enemies of the present government and the whole caboodle of NGOs with neo-colonial, political and religious agendas are shamelessly using the IDP issue to further their interests.

The Opposition thinks the government is building a block vote with the help of its monopoly on IDPs’ welfare and, therefore, is all out to have the IDPs resettled before a national election. It is obviously playing politics. The Diasporic Tigers want to spoil Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism by using the IDP issue to tarnish its image and secure the release of LTTE cadres among the displaced persons before the army unearths all the hidden weapons in the Vanni. Even the UN Under Secretary General on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin has admitted in an interview with BBC that Sri Lanka’s security concerns vis-a-vis LTTE cadres among IDPs are legitimate. The piqued Western nations have resorted to punitive action against Sri Lanka for having eliminated the LTTE leadership in spite of their desperate attempts to save the big terrorists.

The slow progress on resettlement is due to a host of factors including the heavy presence of killer mines in the Vanni, huge cost of rebuilding and the threat of LTTE cadres masquerading as civilians awaiting their release to create trouble.

IDP villages are not certainly concentration camps contrary to the opinion of some pseudo intellectuals and LTTE backers, though their conditions are far from satisfactory. Therefore, the best way out is to resettle the IDPs as soon as possible. But, the question is how to achieve that feat without the aforesaid obstacles being eliminated first of all. Never mind all other factors; what if IDPs were to be sent back to their war ravaged villages infested with mines before de-mining ops are over? Will their lot be better there than in the welfare villages, where they at least are without threat of losing life and limb? And how would the “ƒ”¹…”release-IDPs-immediately’ campaigners react in such an eventuality?

We learn that a top bureaucrat on the president’s staff posed a very pertinent question to a western diplomat in the course of a convivial discussion recently. “Wouldn’t your government condemn us if we were to release IDPs haphazardly and they were to tread on mines?” he asked the powerful diplomat. And the latter was frank enough to admit that her government would certainly make an issue of such a disastrous situation! So, it may be seen that ad hoc resettlement without mines being removed will not only endanger the lives of IDPs but also land Sri Lanka in bigger trouble. Is that what the Western governments and the Diasporic Tigers want?

Resettlement is a task that cannot be carried out as hoppers or pizzas are baked: Safety of IDPs, threats to national security and the cost of rebuilding, we repeat, have to be factored in. It needs to be implemented cautiously and mine clearing operations alone are bound to take months. So, it behoves Sri Lanka’s critics to overcome their hatred, act with restraint and assist in looking after IDPs as well as their resettlement. Forcing Sri Lanka to expedite resettlement without helping eliminate obstacles to it is like putting a patient with a bowel obstruction on a high dose of laxatives!

Britain, having sheltered the LTTE and allowed the outfit to raise funds on its soil for a terrorist war which displaced so many civilians here, has a moral obligation to financially help Sri Lanka to manage resettlement and rebuilding programmes.

As a principal sponsor of LTTE terrorism, Britain cannot shirk its responsibility to compensate the war victims languishing in IDP centres. It must not use funds for IDPs as a bargaining chip.

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