by T . Constantine - London
The objective of this article is to report the proceedings of the meeting organized by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and to share the views expressed therein. The word of mouth about the meeting started to surface in November last year. Dr. Nadesan (Uthayan Paper) of Australia was instrumental in initiating it. At the beginning it was rumored that the meeting would be held in Delhi. Subsequently it was reported that due to the forthcoming elections in India, it would be held in Singapore. The invitations and the agenda were sent out accordingly. However, one week before the meeting the venue was shifted to Colombo, said to be due to ‘unavoidable circumstances’. Security related concern was the reason privately attributed by some Ministry staff. The letters sent out with regard to the meeting and the agenda were published in many websites including the tamilnet. Many invitees decided not to participate at the meeting as a result of last minute change of venue. Some, while expressing their discontent over the change of venue have also conveyed their displeasure over the agenda of the meeting.
The agenda was purported to create a forum to listen to the speeches of the Government Ministers and Officials rather than creating a space for dialogue with the expatriate Tamils. This concern was raised by many and they requested to allocate more time to exchange views. They also raised their concern that the Government should not use this conference as a propaganda forum for the state. The officials who listened to these complain, not only made changes in the agenda but also gave assurance that the Government would not use this conference for its propaganda purpose. While the Government pledged not to use this forum for its political promotion, it was saddening to note that participants were vying with each other to give interviews to the press.
More distressing to note was that some were trying to make it as a meeting to demonstrate support to the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa and as a forum for anti LTTE convergence. Nevertheless, there was an overall unity and consensus of opinion amongst the participants. Another notable thing amongst the participants was their respect for different opinions and the willingness to accommodate those views.
Twenty one people from nine countries such as England, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Norway, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Australia and Canada participated in the meeting. Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Secretary to the Foreign Affairs Ministry Dr. Palitha Kohona, President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, and Senior Adviser to President Basil Rajapaksa, Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana, Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera and Central Bank Governor Ajith Cabral participated on behalf of the Government.
‘There cannot be space for terrorism and oppression in a country that is predominantly Buddhists.’ - Dr. Palitha Kohona, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The proceedings on the first day started with the address of Dr. Palitha Kohona, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said that a new chapter is about to be written after three decades of war. The notions such as the LTTE are the sole representatives of the Tamils and that they are liberation fighters cannot be accepted, he emphasized. Dr. Kohona while stressing that in a country that is predominantly Buddhists, there cannot be any room for terrorism and oppression and he called upon the people of all races to forget the bitterness and to unite. He appealed to the Tamil Diaspora to help towards the education and emancipation of the children in the North and East.
He claimed that the country has lost many valuable lives due to the three decades of war and thousands of scholars and workers have migrated as a result. He stressed that in today’s context the Government will never agree for a ceasefire and said that the LTTE in the past have always made use of the ceasefire for its wrongdoings.
Rejection of the 13th amendment by the LTTE is a historical error– Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.
After the welcome speech, Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama spoke on the subject of ‘Future of Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the war’. The Government is willing to work with all the democratic forces, said the Minister, but it is a great mistake in the present situation the TNA is not engaging itself with the Government. He recalled the meetings he had with late Anton Balasingham and Tamilchelvan and said the LTTE had made a historical mistake by rejecting the 13th amendment.
Minister admitted the intricacy of the situation of the refugees in the North and East and said that his Government is endeavoring to solve the issues faced by them. He said that he is willing to bring constitutional amendments without jeopardizing the unity of the country.
‘East is lacking experienced and capable political leadership’ - Ministry Official
The speeches of both Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and Dr. Palitha Kohona were not deep-rooted, they were just grazing. It was more of a sentimental appeal. They described the changes that have taken place in the Eastern Province as a leap towards democracy, but they failed to mention anything about the real complex ground situation and the inability to re-establish democracy in that province. It shows that it is difficult to engage in an open and pragmatic dialogue with those who are in the democratic mainstream of national politics.
However, when we spoke to the respective ministers and their officials privately, we were able to engage in fruitful discussion with regard to many practical difficulties encountered. One of the advisors of the minster of the Eastern Province, while speaking privately with regard to the devolution of power, confessed that due to the non-availability of experienced and knowledgeable officials to undertake mega-projects, most of the work is being carried out from the centre. He said that creating an administrative structure with able and talented officials is not an easy task that could be done over the night. Another advisor while expressing his view privately said that in the East there are no educated politicians; hence interference by the centre is inevitable. It is not a preplanned act of the Government, it is the reality, he further added.
One of the Tamil participants very clearly emphasized that if the Government intends to bring forth the democracy akin to the one East in the North that would not be an indication of progress.
Speech of Dr. Nadesan – Not reflecting the aspirations of the Tamils.
After the minister, Dr. Nadesan (Australia) spoke on behalf of the Tamil participants. He said that there is no firm leadership to the Tamil community today. Those who claim to be the leaders are not prepared to face the reality, he said. Dr. Nadesan’s speech reflected more of Governments position rather than revealing the political aspirations of the Tamils. He should have emphasized the responsibility of the Government in resolving the issue politically. He should have, in particular, pointed out the inordinate delay in bringing the necessary constitutional amendment to meet with the aspirations of the Tamils. Almost all the Tamil participants were aspiring to put it across, but Dr. Nadesan’s speech did not either mention or emphasized that need. The tone of his speech was that you do what ever you want we would continue to extend our support, which was very perturbing.
APRC – All Party Representative Committee
Followed by Dr. Nadesan was Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana, who spoke on the subject of devolution of power. He started by tracing the history of the APRC and said that the UNP is not a participant of the committee at present, but expressed his hope that they would join in the future. In short, APRC appear to be like a snake without the teeth to bite. Although the aim of the APRC is for a good cause, the prolonging of its proceedings for years without reaching any solution shows that it is going to be a futile exercise.
Professor Vitarana said that today 53% of the people from the North and East are living in other districts and that any political demand other than devolution of powers would be an impossible one. Professor Vitarana’s lengthy speech was void of any political intricacy, but it clearly articulates the APRC’s powerlessness.
Although he said that the APRC would recommend a proposal based on Westminster Parliamentary system with devolution of powers, he has not mentioned any time framework for the submission of the proposal. Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana appears to be a person with clear political vision, but without political clout.
Sinhala only act of 1956 is a scar in the pages of history– President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga.
The next speaker was President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, who spoke on the subject of ‘Civil administration and the practical difficulties’. He said that only a few Tamils join the civil administration today and there is only a handful of Tamils in the higher echelon of the service. He pointed out that the Government is fully aware of the misery of the Tamils from time to time and that it has initiated action to remedy the situation. Every five minutes, during the course of his speech, Weeratunga quoted from Mahinda Chintanaya. He contended that in the history of Sri Lankan only the present president laid down the policies in writing. He also pointed out that in Mahinda Chintanaya the president had stated his willingness for a direct dialogue with the LTTE leader. He described the 1956 Sinhala only act as a scar in the pages of history.
Following the address of Lalith Weeratunga, the session was opened for discussion. Replying to the views expressed by the Tamil participants, the President’s Secretary said peace and prosperity cannot be achieved by enacting laws alone. He said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is taking personal interest to ensure the implementation of Tamil as an official language. He cited as an example that forty officials attached to the Presidential Secretariat are studying Tamil on the direction of the President.
Replying to a question raised by a Tamil participant, Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana said that there is an invisible third force in politics today. This third force is keen on continuing the war.
He said that many people are swindling millions of rupees as a result of fraud, corruption and administrative irregularities associated with the war. These personals will always hamper the efforts to bring peace and stability in the country, minister further added. He revealed that these are the forces behind the killing of parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingam on the Christmas day few years ago. These third forces are using their henchmen to contest parliamentary elections spending millions of rupees.
Dawn of the East
After the brief exchange of views and question time, the advisor for the programme “Dawn of the East’ Chandra Fernando addressed the audience. He authenticated his speech by showing photographs of the mega development projects carried out in the East.
From the facts presented and the photographs shown it is evident that many mega development projects are being carried out in the East. Nevertheless, there is no indication that democratic political leaders of the East viz. Chief Minister Chandrakanthan and Minister Karuna have any role in those development projects. All these development activities are being carried out under the direction and supervision of President’s Senior Advisor Basil Rajapaksa.
Open Discussion: The growth and strengthening of regional, racial and religious political parties will not be apposite for a healthy society. That will lead to hazardous proportions.- Foreign Affairs Minister
Then the session was opened for questions and answers and for discussion with Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. His replies could be summarized as follows:
1. The elections in the North will be held very soon.
2. The programme to resettle the refugees will commence early.
3. The growth and strengthening of regional, racial and religious political parties will not be apposite for a healthy society. That will lead to hazardous proportions.
4. The migration of Tamils from North to South in increasing daily. The Government is actively engaged in reducing it.
5. The propaganda machinery of the LTTE is well established in the foreign countries. The Government is now prepared to counter it.
Most of the views expressed by the Tamil participants were baseless sermons. However the view expressed by one participant from Australia, Mr Raveendran, echoed the aspirations of the Tamils as a whole. His views were resolute and decisive. One Tamil participant pronounced that he is a fan of President Mahind Rajapaksa, for which another participant demonstrated his support by clapping alone. These degrading conducts made me to feel what was said in a Tamil axiom - losing even the loin-cloth, the piece of cloth that was upholding the self respect.
Minister D. E. W Gunasekera
The last day session was focused on development, reconciliation and bringing understanding amongst races. The main speaker was Constitutional Affairs and National Integration Minister D. E. W Gunasekera. It should be noted that Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera is the leader of the Sri Lanka Communist Party and a longstanding politician.
He recalled how LTTE, in the past, have eliminated other political parties and suppressed the political opinions. He reminded that the organizer for Northern Province of the Communist Party was assassinated by the LTTE and that the party press was set on fire by them. He gave an extensive discourse about the constitutional provisions with regard to the rights of the minorities and the legal provisions related to the rehabilitation of surrendered combatants.
Detention Camps – Rehabilitation Centre
Secretary to the Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms Suhada Gamalath, replying to a question with regard to the detainees kept under ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act.’ for a long period of time, explained the practical difficulties in framing charges against these youths. He assured that very soon all those who cannot be charged before the court of law will be released.
There was a lengthy discussion about the Rehabilitation Centers where the LTTE child soldiers who were either arrested or surrendered are being rehabilitated.
An invitation was extended to the Tamil participants to visit the child rehabilitation centre in Ambepusava on Colombo Kandy Road.
Accordingly, the following day all the participants were taken to Ambepusava to see the child combatants captured in the war front.
The participants were told of the Government’s expectation from expatriate Tamils towards the welfare of these children. At present everything such as education, food and clothing are provided by the Government.
During a lengthy discussion, the Ministers repeatedly sought the assistance from expatriate Tamils. Those who are willing to provide assistance need not send it through the Government, they can be directly send to the respective officers in charge of the centre, it was told.
Winding up of the meeting
The following requests were made, in the winding up speech delivered by Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona.
1. Expatriate Tamils should take part in the development and growth of the country.
2. Must join whole heartedly in discussions to learn from the past and to find solutions to the issues.
3. These types of meetings and discussions should have taken place long ago; it should not be delayed hereinafter.
4. The issues of the internally displaced people have to be addressed without delay.
5. The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has only 59 Parliament MPP out of the 225. The rest are MPP of the coalition parties. All should understand the political intricacies and extend their support towards peace building process.
6. All are responsible for the current crisis in the country; hence it is the duty of all to join together in finding the remedial measures.
7. It is a false propaganda that genocide is taking place in the country. In spite of all the troubles, thousands of Tamils are living in Colombo and its outskirts. Ninety five percentages of those living in Wellawatta are Tamils. Government considers this as a healthy sign of progress.
8. There is no point in repeatedly scratching an old wound. All should feel it from the bottom of their heart and come forward to find solutions.
9. The issue of refugees is not a new phenomenon. Ninety five percentages of those displaced from Vakarai and Mutur have now been resettled. We will implement the same programme of work for the North.
Replies by Basil Rajapaksa to the questions raised by the Tamil participants.
Although the name of the Senior Advisor to President Basil Rajapaksa too was mentioned in the agenda, he did not come to Mt. Lavinia hotel to participate in the meeting. We are able to gauge that it was a last minute decision due to security concern that prevented him from attending the venue.
Once the meeting was over, all the participants were put into a vehicle and taken to the old Parliament building at Galle Face, where the office of the President’s Secretariat is functioning. A meeting was arranged there between the Tamil participants and Basil Rajapaksa. The meeting lasted for about four hours. By answering all the questions put across calmly and patiently with facts and figures he has proofed himself to be a person managing all the activities.
His ability and authority has been proofed beyond any doubt when he answered and countered the tough questions put across with regard to the reports that some of the displaced people are missing and about the future of those refugees.
At the beginning he allowed about twenty to twenty five questions to be asked and he answered all the questions. Some of the important answers are as follows:
1.In the Mahinda Chintanaya it has been stated clearly that the Government was prepared to talk to LTTE and its leader Prapakaran to resolve the issues.
2. We were determined to solve the issues faced by the country. We had no reservations in this respect. I went personally to Geneva, without the knowledge of the media, to meet Pulithevan and late Balasingam and TamilChelvan.
3. The fire power of the LTTE was mighty. We knew it. The people of Vanni have no political clout. It is the Tamil Diaspora that has to express their feeling to the LTTE.
4. Today many people are trying to visit refugee camps in Vanni like visiting a Zoo to see the animals. It is not fair, they are not exhibits. Help this people that is what is needed.
5. There is a rumor that I personally send TNA parliamentarian Vinothan to refugee camps in Vanni and instigated him to speak in parliament about the betterment of the camps.It is a false propaganda. Vinothan requested permission to visit the camp to see his relatives and accordingly the permission was granted, that’s all. What he spoke in parliament about the conditions of the refugees is his personal opinion, from what he had seen there. No body needs to apply pressure to speak of that in parliament and we have not requested so.
6. It is not practically possible to continuously keep those refugee camps. We don’t intend to do so. We are politicians, we depend on the peoples votes. We are aware of one thing from our past experience, those who are in the refugee camps will always vote against the state. In the past elections we were in the eighth place in some of the refugee camps. Do we need this?
7. According to our plans and programmes, there won’t be any refugees in Sri Lanka in another three years time. Within a short period of time we have resettled about 200,000 people. This is a World record.
8. The refuges in the Vanni area are kept in constricted enclosed area protected by barbed wire. It is true their freedom of movement is restricted. This situation is not going to continue for ever. The documentation of thousands of people and to issue them with identity cards is not an easy task. Most of the refugees don’t have any documents to proof their identity. Very soon we will complete the process of registration and issuing them with identity cards as we have done in the East. We have successfully completed this programme in the East; we will implement it in the North very soon.
9. I will make arrangement for all of you to visit these camps freely. You see it yourself. There may be practical issues, as far as possible we are trying to remedy it immediately. In the last few weeks alone about 10 officials have been transferred out due to various allegations.
10. Propaganda is being carried out in foreign countries that those in the refugee camps are subject to sexual harassment and being subject contraceptive treatment.
We would not betray our own people; you all go and witness it. As compared to Dafur and other refugee camps world over, our refugee camps are in better standard. This is a short term achievement; we are keen on resettling them.
11. Today there are many social issues in the refugee camps than the political and security issues. Some outsiders have taken those refugees declaring as relatives and keep them as domestic servants. Those in the refugee camps are economically and educationally in a backward position. From communicating with the officials to writing a small letter, they cannot do of their own. They need help. We are fully aware of their anxiety.
12. There is another misinformation campaign carried out in the foreign countries that the Government intentionally steer up the refugees in order to drive them out from their traditional habitat. It is totally untrue. About 97% of those who were displaced from the East in recent times have already been resettled in their places of residence.
13. In an informal manner we are in touch with Norway Government, newly appointed LTTE coordinator K.P and other LTTE leaders in the foreign countries. Even yesterday John Holmes has spoken to K.P. No body new about it. While waging a war we have not forgotten the politics. Whatever it is, we cannot and we will not change our stance on the international arrest warrant against the seven including Prabakaran and Pottu Amman. These seven people will have to face the charges according to the international law. We are prepared to discuss all other issues other than this.
14. We are prepared to work with TNA. If they don’t talk to us how can we solve the issues? We have repeatedly told this to TNA leader Sampanthan.
All the replies of Basil Rajapaksa were substantiated with facts. He had a heap of files with him. For each of his reply, he validated it by showing the respective file. Although there were three secretaries around him to assist, Basil Rajapaksa appear to be more familiar and talented in taking the appropriate files and locating the required document. At times he answered the questions jokingly and at certain times signaled the media personal to leave the room.
At one point while explaining about the IDP camps, he referred to a letter written by TULF leader Anandasangari to him. Everybody laughed at when he pointed out that Sangari had requested in his letter to give biscuits and tea at 10am and 4pm to the IDPs.
When he was questioned about the intense security search against the Tamils he shared his experience in Geneva when he visited recently. He said that when he went to UN with dhoti, the security officials requested him to remove the belt. Then he said, he explained to them that if he removes it the dhoti will fall down.
Dignitaries we met
In the two days summit and the banquets held, lot of events took place over and above the decided agenda. Some were able to make private meetings with some of the officials who participated in the meeting. The important dignitaries I met with were;
1. Minister Rohitha Bogollagama
2. Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary Dr.Palitha Kohona.
3. Presidents Secretary Lalith Weeratunga
4. Senior Advisor to President Basil Rajapaksa.
5. Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera
6. Minister Tissa Vitarana
7. TNA MP Sri Kantha
8. Minister Karuna
9. Minister Douglas Devananda
10. PLOTE leader Sidarthan
11. TULF leader Anandasangari
12. EPRLF (Naba faction) Sugu
13. Advisor to Eastern Province Ministry Chandra Fernando
14. Minister Mahidananda Aluthgamage
15. American Ambassador for Sri Lanka Robert Blake
16. The First Secretary in Indian embassy B. Siam
17. Secretary to Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms Suhada Gamalath
18. Private Secretary to Minister Karuna Santhini Perera
Other than those referred to above, I was able to meet many officials and advisors privately. What I was able to see (from Sri Lankan officials) is that today Srilankan politicians are matured politically. While the Tamil polity was centered on political violence, the Sinhalese politicians were focusing on massive strategic programmes along with military actions. As a result, while the Srilankan government was able to secure their standing before the international community, the Tamil community has been compelled to jump into the Thames River dancing with their with their drums and trumpets.
The epics of the Diaspora
The political maturity and the apposite behavior found in the Srilankan politicians and officials are no match to the conduct of the Tamil Diaspora who had been domicile in the Western countries for over two decades.
The participants from the Diaspora community wasted their time on either attacking the LTTE or in praising and commending the Government, rather than collectively raising their voices on concrete political issues, arguing with factual evidence and engaging in constructive political dialogue.
I was feeling ashamed and humiliated when some participants raised questions centered on their profession or their children.
It was a disgrace to the Tamils that some participants, read out quotations from Einstein and Churchill from the scribbles.
It was saddening to note that most of the Tamil participants were not conversant with basic protocol as to how to perform and conduct in a meeting of this nature.
One of the Tamil dignitaries, who gave the vote of thanks, spoke about his job and his wife’s background. The conduct of the Tamil participants clearly illustrates that in political apprehension they are still like the frog living in a well.
Moreover, it is very distressing to note that some participants elevated themselves as representative of the Tamils and Tamil leaders. The interviews given by some participants to the media did not reflect the collective will of all the participants.
To see the memorandums handed over by the Tamil participants, official statement of the Government and the media reports with regard to this meeting visit http://srilankan-diaspora.org/
Consensus amongst the Diaspora
There was one common opinion amongst all the participants. There is no military solution to the problem of the Tamils; LTTE are not the sole representatives of the Tamils; only through negotiation with the Sri Lanka Government that the problem of the Tamils can be resolved; the propaganda carried out by the LTTE in the Western countries are to safeguard the LTTE leadership and not to resolve the political problem of the Tamils; there should be a ceasefire and refugees should be resettled in their original places of residence.
Visit to IDP camps in Vavunia
This visit was organized by the Foreign Affairs Ministry at the direction Basil Rajapaksa on the request of the Tamil participants. Nine Tamil participants and four officials from the Foreign Affairs Ministry accompanied by security personal went to Vavunia by road.
In the vicinity of Madawachiya, army or police sentry points could be seen almost every 50 feet, irrespective of whether it is a shrub land or jungle area. We could not get the opportunity to either talk to them or to observe their activities, since we were escorted by security personal. But, we could see people being subject to security checks in all the check points. There was no indication of any force being used or misuse by officers. As far as we could observe the security checks were swift and carried out without causing any difficulty. We have not seen any no long queues in front of these check points.
When we passed Madawachiya, Thandikulam and Eeraperiyakulam along A9 route, we were able to see de-mining activities being carried out in most of the places. There were indications of de-mining activities as well as notice boards. The presence of Buddhist Viharas, Mosques and Hindu Temples were common occurrences up to Madawachiya junction.
Gigantic poster of Mahinda Rajapaksa and a poster depicting child soldiers being engaged in war are the main attraction at Vavunia junction. The prevalence of grief and sorrow across the Vavunia city is noticeable. The city appears to be quiescent without the spirit of liveliness. We had a brief discussion with assistant Government Agent Sampanthan and senior officer Paramanathan about the situation in Vavunia. Sampanthan gave details about 48,859 refugees who had come from combat areas up to 30.03.09 and that they are being housed in 15 schools. He told us that those who are in the detention camps are worried, frustrated and perturbed. They are showing their resentment on the officials, he said.
After this meeting we were taken to Gamini Mahavidyalaya, about half a mile from Vavunia junction. According the Government Agent’s account up to 30.03.09, 1487 people were registered there. While we were there, more than 300 people were at the gate waiting for registration. When we set foot to speak with those people who had just arrived, I could see the eyes of all of us, including the Foreign Affairs Ministry officials who accompanied us, were soaked with tears. It is difficult to describe in words the conditions of those refugees who had just arrived.
We cannot forget in our lifetime the faces of those people whom we have met in front Gamini Mahavidyalaya and their cries and plights; it would continue to reverberate in our minds. Those innocent people, unaware of who we were and the purpose of our presence there surrounded us and started to tell-tale the misery and sufferings they had encountered, as if we were going to do wonders. Mother who had come past the corpse of her own daughter, helpless husband while trying to carry his daughter out of muddy water, had seen his wife drowning ……….were some of the incidents narrated to us. When those people were puzzled as to what to say and how to say, even the Foreign Affairs Ministry officials started crying.
[future is bright...?]
Even though the letter from the Minister was produced at the gate, the army official on duty at the gate refused to permit us to go inside. Finally, when the responsible Ministry officer spoke to the higher command in the army, we were permitted to go inside.
We felt as if our heart was stripped apart when we saw the conditions of the refugees inside that camp. Sixteen babies born within one week were lying on the ground. A youth with both legs and an arm amputated; a boy with amputated arm; eight year old child with bullet inside his back. We were able to see all the cruelties that our mind is able to think of to its utmost capability, within that small arena.
A woman showed us a scar caused due to the attack by the LTTE when she tried to flee the area. The people over there spoke with us frankly and instinctively. “We don’t mind who rules us, send us back to our villages’ was their motto. When we enquired from about twenty five people whether any injection being administered on them, their reaction was as if they were hearing such thing for the first time. They told us that many people have died as a result of aerial bombing by kafir jets. They also told us about the conscription, forced labour and extortion by the LTTE.
After meeting the people at Vavunia Gamini Vidyalaya, we met the Government Agent Mrs. Charles. She appeared to be an able officer and gave straight answers to all our questions.
Today the LTTE members in Europe and America are campaigning that in IDP camps women are being raped and contraceptive injections are administered. We do not have resources to counter that campaign. You can visit and speak with them and find out what is happening there. If there is genocide here then that means I am doing it. However, Mrs. Charles admitted that there are practical problems in the camps. She made an appeal that the Diaspora community should help these people by sending clothing and nutritional supplements for the children and women.
49,859 people have been registered up to 30.03.09 in 15 temporary camps in Vavunia. The number of people who flee the combat area is calculated on the basis of this registration. However, there is no account as to how many people really fled the combat area and entered the army controlled area. The LTTE claim that many people are reported missing in between. When we enquired about this from those in the camps they do not agree with that allegation.
Apart from these 15 temporary refugee camps, there are four additional permanent camps put up by the Government. There details are as follows;
1. Kadirgamar Village – It is in full occupation. 6,000 people are housed in this camp.
2. Arunachalam Village – It is constructed in 333acre land. 11,683 people are housed here.
3. Anandakumaraswamy Village – Under construction in 260 acres land. Not occupied yet.
4. Ramanathan Village – Under construction in 376 acre land. Not occupied yet.
This village was established by razing last extent of forest. The houses are fairly large. with thatched roof. All the facilities such as people’s bank, post office, training centers, temple and hospital are available within the village. Even though all these are available, certainly it cannot be compared to living in a village.
People from Vanni and Mullaitivu are not used to living in this type of constricted enclosed area. There are possibilities for socio psychological issues to crop up. Though all the facilities are available and meals are provided, those who are capable of working are idling. The schools have all the facilities. Students can study up to advanced level. Students Saroji and Tharsika told us that the facilities at the school in Kadirgamar village are much better than the school they studied. A nineteen year old student Thyakaran told us that they got displaced on the 23rd of November and was living in Kanakarajankulm, from where they came to Vavunia.
Overall we had the liberty to visit any IDP camp and meet anyone independently without being followed by anybody. At times, when people surround us we get mental fear, but it fades away and we felt like talking to people familiar to us.
In both the camps I visited there were about 8,000 people. Out of them twenty people talked to me for a long period of time. I talked with many others as a group. Not a single person spoke about Tamil Eelam or praised the LTTE. Few told us about the LTTE extortion and forced labour. I spoke with about twenty five children in the age group of seven to ten. With age related playfulness, they spoke beautifully in Tamil. They frequently told about the kefir jet. It is the unanimous view of everybody that they do not have any problem with the army and police personal stationed in the camp.
What is Next????
There is a blend of many officials in the IDP camps such as Sinhalese doctors, Sinhalese officers, Tamil officers, Sinhala army, Muslim officers etc. The existences of these types of camps are inevitable at this point of time. But, we do not know what is happening in the battle zone. But one thing is clear; there is no truth in the propaganda carried out by the LTTE supporters about the conditions in the IDP camps. It is the duty of the Tamil Diaspora to help those in these camps.
I wish to reiterate that in the present context, the existences of these camps are inevitable, but, without delay arrangements should be made to close these camps and to allow these people to settle in their places of origin. Failing which, it will lead to the emergence of ten Prabakarans and hundreds of suicide cadres.
T Constantine – London
22 April 2009