Country Information Update
Posted on September 15th, 2009

Embassy of Sri Lanka Washington, D.C.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Resettlement of displaced persons continues at a good pace. The government announced recently that about 50,000 displaced people were resettled to their homes or the homes of relatives as of mid-August, and that another 50,000 people would return to their homes or the homes of relatives by Sept. 30.

About 15,000 families ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” approximately 20,000 to 25,000 people ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” were set to return to Jaffna in the coming days. About 37,000 families that were separated during the conflict have been re-united.

Overall, those resettlements have dropped the number of those in IDP camps in the Vavuniya area, where the bulk of the IDPs are housed, to 240,206 as of Sept. 8. The number of IDPs is expected to drop further ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” to less than 200,000 ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” by Sept. 30 as resettlements continue. That will mean that the government of Sri Lanka will have resettled a third of the displaced within just three months of the end of the conflict with the LTTE.

In Colombo, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Tamil National Alliance met to discuss humanitarian issues. It was the first meeting between the TNA and a Head of State since the LTTE was defeated in May. Afterward, it was agreed that the relatives of IDPs could apply to have displaced persons live with them. About 2,000 relatives signed-up to accept IDP relatives.

The Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition is providing expanded health services to the internally displaced population in welfare centers in Cheddikulam Vavuniya. The ministry has deployed 25 new doctors in the five zones of Cheddikulam welfare centers, as well as five zone healthcare coordinators, two visiting physicians, two pediatricians, three pediatric registrars, four dental doctors and variety of other medical personnel. Furthermore a group of emergency surgeons will conduct weekly clinics at the welfare centers.

The new positions bring the total number of government medical personnel now at work in the IDP centers to 427. In addition, 53 NGOs have access to the welfare centers.

Primary Health centers, mobile health clinics, night clinics, mobile labs, operating theaters and ambulances are in operation 24 hours-a-day.

Health agencies are continuing active surveillance for communicable diseases. Details about high risk areas have been identified and information is shared with the Ministry officials and NGOs at each site.

The ministry stated that increase in medical staff and facilities have significantly slowed the spread of communicable diseases. An action plan to respond to health challenges during monsoon season has also been activated.

DE-MINING

The pace of IDP resettlement is closely linked to ability of the government to remove landmines in the Northern Province.

The demining program is now underway in the Vavuniya, Killinochchi, Mullaithivu, Mannar and Jaffna districts. About 400 Sri Lanka Army soldiers and seven international NGOs, including UXO, the Swiss Foundation for demining, four Indian Units, the Mine Advisory Group and NECORD, are all taking part in the work.

In addition, the government of Sri Lanka has taken delivery of five Slovakian de-mining machines for $2.5 million, and it is expecting the delivery of five more in the coming weeks.

“Only 10 square meters (about 100 square feet) can be de-mined daily (by one mine clearer) through manual work,” Major General D.M.D. Alwis, coordinator of the Sri Lanka Humanitarian Demining Project, told Agence France Press. “But these machines can clear 5,000 square meters.”

So far, the de-mining units have cleared all eight major roads in the north. The cleared routes include the A- 32 (Mannar- Poonaryn highway), A ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” 9 (Kandy ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…”Jaffna highway), A-34, A-35 MKillinochchi- Mullaithivu highway), A- 30 (Vavuniya- Kebitghigollawa- Trinco highway).

The teams are now beginning to clear secondary roads and also villages and farm fields.

De-mining work in Muselli and surrounding areas in the Mannar district has been completed and inhabitants who fled Muselli area during the fighting have now been resettled. De-mining work around the Giant Tank and Iranamadu Tank — a vast paddy land in Mannar district — is expected to be completed before the next paddy cultivation period before October. More de-mining work in the villages next to Madhu will be completed during October.

Defense scholar James Clad of the National Defense University noted in a recent terrorism seminar at George Washington University that, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-no one in the world clears mines more quickly than the Sri Lankans.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

POST-CONFLICT DEVELOPMENT

Sri Lanka continues to move forward with its post-conflict development plan, focusing on new construction and infrastructure projects in the north.

The government announced recently that the Kilinochchi Hospital, bombed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) several times, will be reconstructed shortly.

The Office of the Government Agent in Mullaittivu will oversee the work. Security forces have nearly completed de-mining of the Kilinochchi hospital area.

In addition, repair work has begun on six tanks (water reservoirs) in the Vavuniya area. Under presidential directive, the reconstruction work will be completed before the next cultivation season. The work should support 2000 acres of paddy land.

The Agriculture Department distributed 1,650 bushels of seed paddy for paddy cultivation in the North. The distribution of seed paddy will further expand the self-production of this category of paddy needed for cultivation from next season in this region.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture and Agrarian Services Ministry has taken steps to provide a financial grant of Rs. 5,000 to each farmer family who are to be resettled in Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts for home gardening.

The Ministry also plans to grant Rs. 17,500 per hectare to these displaced families in these districts to bring the fallow land back into paddy cultivation.

President Rajapaksa recently reiterated the importance of reconstruction projects during an extensive interview with Forbes magazine.

“Without development, there won’t be peace,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ President Rajapaksa said. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-We must develop the economy. I don’t want to just be the liberator; I want to be the leader who brings permanent peace and development to this country and reconciliation with Tamil communities in the North and the East.

“The war is over. Now we have no excuses. We have to start working and develop this country.”

President Rajapaksa spoke of the countryƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s current economic trends and said even in the war time the economy grew by at least 6 percent each year. Inflation is now down to 1.1 percent, from 11 percent four years ago, according to Central Bank figures. And he noted that per capita income has risen on his watch from $1,200 to $2,000.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Whoever wants to help me, I will welcome them without strings,” the president said. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-I have invited Americans. New bridges and dams are being done by the British and Canada.”

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ POLICE RECRUITS IN JAFFNA

In the northern city of Jaffna, police announced that they will recruit 500 youths to take places in the force, according to Senior Superintendent of Police Jaffna, Roshan Fernando.

The Jaffna youth will be recruited for the ranks of Sub Inspectors and Constables. The interviews for selection will be held in the first week of October. Recruitment to the police force is taking place in the North for the first time in three decades.

With the new recruitment in Jaffna, the Government has initiated measures to deal with the issues in Tamil.

Meanwhile, the 143rd anniversary of the Sri Lanka Police was celebrated in Jaffna on Friday. The first police station in Jaffna was set up in 1896, with one officer and five constables.

At present there are sixteen police stations in the Jaffna peninsula.

TOURISM LEAPS FORWARD

With terrorism in the past, Sri Lankan has thrown open its doors to domestic and foreign tourists, and the results have been encouraging. Tourism in July was up 28 percent from the same month a year ago. In June the industry witnesses a 14 percent improvement over June 2008.

According to the statistics issued by Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the country attracted 42,223 tourists in July, compared to 32,982 in the same month of 2008.

The Trincomalee coastal belt is one of the main attractions of the tourists. Nilaveli draws large crowds both local and foreign. According to recent tourists, Pooramalai area located in the Nilaveli sea belt is one of the most popular destinations.

The tourism boom has also enabled more Sri Lankans to visit places of historic and cultural interest during the holidays.

Other sectors of Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s economy also continue to thrive. Stocks have rebounded to one-year highs over the last two months. Economic prospects were bolstered by the International Monetary FundƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s recent vote to approve a $2.6 billion standby facility, as well as loans from the World Bank for healthcare improvements and investments by the Asian Development bank in reconstruction projects in the north.

MEDIA MATTERS

Two controversial matters involving the media and Sri Lanka transpired recently.

The first involved the sentencing of J.S. Tissainayagam, a journalist who was arrested in March 2008 and charged with three counts of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The law finds that any person is a terrorist who causes or intends to cause violence or racial or religious disharmony or feeling of ill will or hostility between different communities by his/her words.

A judge in the Colombo High Court gave Mr. Tissainayagam, a 20-year sentence following his trial and conviction.

Many news reports portrayed Mr. TissainayagamƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s case as one of press freedom, suggesting that the government tried and convicted him to silence his criticism. However, the charges involved are actually aimed at preventing ethnic violence and accepting funds from an outlawed terrorist group, the LTTE.

Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s anti-terrorism laws are designed to prevent ethnic violence. The government does not control cases, verdicts or sentences in courts of law.

Mr. Tissainayagam was found guilty of violating laws that apply to all Sri Lankans, not just journalists. He has a right to appeal his conviction and his attorney has said that Mr. Tissainayagam will file an appeal.

Controversy continued to swirl around a second media issue last week: A video aired by BritainƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Channel 4 that purports to show the execution of naked, bound and blind-folded men by other men in military uniforms. Channel 4 reported that the naked victims shown were Tamil.

However, Channel 4 aired the video even though it reported that it could confirm the videoƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s authenticity, the time or place of the alleged events or who filmed it. It reported that it received the video from a previously unknown group: Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

Other media reported that the group was registered as recently as July in Germany. The group, Channel 4 reported, said the video was taken with a mobile phone in January.

Minister of Human Rights and Disaster Management, Mahinda Samarasinghe said that four separate scientific studies into the video clip have established that the video was a fabricated production that contained a number of technical enhancements.

Speaking at a media briefing held in Colombo, Minister Samarasinghe said that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”the precise experimentsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ conducted by highly qualified technical experts have concluded that the video contained technical anomalies which are evidence of manipulation.

In fact, one outside analysis of the video shows that it was not taken with a mobile phone, but most probably with a more sophisticated television camera. Also, an analysis shows that audio apparently was dubbed onto the video.

Siri Hewawitharana, who once worked as a video coding specialist for a major British television network, conducted his own technical analysis of the Channel 4 video. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Looking at the footage, the first thing I found strange was the high quality of the video and lack of cascading effects and motion blur associated with mobile video coding,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ he wrote in The Island. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-I can say this video never came from a mobile phone since the original video is of quite a high standard and motion vectors were of high quality. (That never comes from a mobile phone).ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

HewawitharanaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s full analysis can be found at: http://www.island.lk/2009/08/31/opinion1.html

Philip Alston, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on summary executions, called for an investigation into the events portrayed on the video, but not for an investigation of the videoƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s authenticity or the validity of the group that provided it.

The video, which is clearly a fabrication, is intended to disrupt the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

Embassy of Sri Lanka

Washington, D.C.

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