Ensure Freedom of Choice and Provide for Peaceful Reconciliation
Media Release by National Peace Council of Sri Lanka
The decision of the Government to release displaced civilians in the welfare camps in the North to relatives willing to house them is a very welcome move. This positive pronouncement follows discussions that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had with leaders of the Tamil National Alliance. There has recently been a heightened concern regarding the conditions in the camp and the inadequate resources available to prepare for the monsoon rains which are imminent. There have been calls for the immediate release of at least one third of the detained population in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. The government has taken a commendable step in responding to these concerns, signalling a concern for its Tamil people and taking positive measures towards their future wellbeing.
As a precondition to release, those wishing to leave the camps will go through a rigorous process of screening and identification. The National Peace Council calls upon the government to conduct this procedure quickly and transparently, so as to prevent the additional duress that a protracted process may cause. There are also reports of government plans specifically directed towards elderly persons in the camps who are highly vulnerable to the physical difficulties of life in the camps. The construction of homes for the aged in five regions throughout the North and East is also a positive contribution to their welfare. Through these measures, it is estimated that about one thousand of the elderly civilians who are currently being detained will be able to move out of the camps, and, it is hoped, on to normalized lives ahead.
However, it is imperative that civilians who qualify for housing, but would prefer to remain in the camps with their loved ones should not be forced to leave. We urge the government to ensure that freedom of choice is maintained. The burden of conflict has devastated large areas of the North, leaving many with access to food, schooling and other resources only within the confines of the camps. Those who wish to extend their time in the camps must thus be allowed to stay.
In addition, the process of de-mining and rebuilding areas in the conflict zone must be expedited in order to ensure a quick, safe and sustainable return to all the people. This will ensure that all decisions taken by the currently displaced and detained population will be based on a free choice with a range of improved options. In the meantime we call upon the government to continue with its efforts to improve conditions in the camps and to provide a clear, transparent and accessible timetable of when all the displaced persons will be released.
NPC also urges the government to strengthen the political dialogue with the TNA and those who have obtained a democratic mandate from the Tamil people of the North and East. We urge the Government to use this opportunity to rebuild trust and good relations between itself and the Tamil people, give priority to the needs of the people, and allow them to resume a meaningful existence as soon as it possibly can. Allowing these dispirited civilians the freedom to decide their own future will assure the Tamil population of the government’s respect and concern, and will provide for a peaceful reconciliation in the years ahead.