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Resettlement: Real or rhetoric?

[Sunday Times.lk, Sunday, 6 June 2010 08:11 No Comment]

One year after the end of the war, the government is showing a renewed haste to complete the task of resettling the remaining war-displaced people in camps in the north, but the affected people claim the process is flawed and moving slowly.

As the government tries to win over the support of the international community by telling them that most of the displaced people have been resettled, the people who have left the Vavuniya camps say they are still living in transit facilities in schools and government buildings. They say they want to get back to their villages as soon as possible. Most of these people say they depend on non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies such as the World Food Programme for their daily meals, but they would like to go to their villages and start farming.

Families at makeshift shelters in Dharmapuram. Parliamentarian S. Shritharan said he visited the Pooneryn area in the Kilinochchi district on Friday and found that most of the people who were sent there did not have proper housing and basic facilities such as access to clean water.

“In the name of resettlement, the displaced people have been moved from one camp to another. From the Vavuniya camp, they have come to places such as Kilinochchi Central College and Shri Vigneshwara School in Pooneryn. Therefore, in effect, they are still in camps,” the Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian said.

Mr. Shritharan said resettled people in one area told him that they had been given a piece of tarpaulin, a dozen tin roofing sheets and a few wooden poles to put up sheds to live.

“Though the government claims that more than 200,000 have already been resettled, we cannot call it a resettlement as the people are still living in temporary shelters or transit camps,” he said adding that they would take up the matter in parliament next week.

The displaced people said they believed the process of resettlement should be expedited. They said they were not allowed to go to their villages because the demining process had not been completed there.

However, the government has said the demining process would be completed within months. The IDPs also acknowledge that some areas had been cleared of mines but the authorities had not still given them the green light to go there and start their lives again.

One displaced person said the cattle that roamed their villages which were now mine-free had been smuggled out of the area by racketeers. Another said their children had not been able to go to school yet because schools were either damaged or being occupied by the displaced people.

But the government says it has an elaborate plan for resettlement. Explaining the process, Resettlement Minister Milroy Fernando told the Sunday Times the issue of the displaced was much more complicated than what was anticipated and therefore the proper resettlement would take time.
“More than 300,000 people cannot be resettled overnight. We have to make sure the areas they return to are mine-free,” he said.

The minister said only 60,000 IDPs now lived in the camps in Vavuniya and they would be resettled within months. Responding to allegations that the resettlement process was a sham and the IDPs were still living in transit camps or facilities, Mr. Fernando said these IDPs did not have houses or their houses had been destroyed and the government had approached CARITAS, an NGO, to build houses for them.

“There are many international NGOs willing to help, but we have to be careful as some of the NGOs have acted in a suspicious manner in the past,” he said. The minister said the demining process has been put on a fast track and it was not only international teams that were involved in the task but also the Army.

When asked about the livelihood of the resettled people, Mr. Fernando said the government had plans to create market opportunities for their products once they get back to their villages and start cultivating and farming. Mr. Fernando said once all the IDPs in the Vavuniya camp had been resettled, the government would turn its focus on setting up farms in the areas where the IDP camps were located i Vavuniya.

He said that some 20,000 acres where the camps were located will be given to the people to cultivate paddy and vegetables and engage in dairy farming. Commenting on measures to stop cattle smuggling, the minister said he had instructed the police not allow people from outside to go to the villages earmarked for resettlement.

Responding to the IDPs’ complaint that they could not send their children to school, Mr. Fernando said the UNICEF had come forward to rebuild the damaged schools and provide necessary facilities.

Madhu Road village comes back to life

By Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe

With the end of the three decade old conflict a village in Mannar is once again buzzing with life. Madhu Road is a village where over 300 Sinhalese families and a dozen Tamil families lived with even mixed marriages taking place in a show of amity.

residents Today that friendly situation has not changed much. It was on August 17, 1985 that LTTE cadres entered the village and massacred a dozen villagers in cold blood. The rest fled to escape the Tigers.

On May 31 this year they came back on the advice of Resettlement Minister Milroy Fernando. However, there were no traces of their previous stay and even the Madhu Road railway station is today only a memory of the past.

Recalling the past events Sirima Rohini said that she cannot forget the day the LTTE killed her fellow villagers, but today she said she is happy to have come back which she feels is a blessing. She said that the villagers will go back to their occupations which they were engaged in in the past.

Meanwhile Brig. Nissanka Ranawaka of the Sri Lanka Army said that the villagers who have come back can be certain that the State would look into their needs and that they need have no fear as mines have been cleared from the village area.

Ven. Pihimbiya Gollewe Sri Bharathi Thera of the Sri Bodhi Raja Vihara of Madhu said that he is thankful to the minister who made a dream come true for the villagers to resettle here. He recalled how the Madhu pilgrims of the bygone era were treated well by the villagers here. That old unity would prevail once again, he said.

Minister Fernando said that the Government has made it possible for people to come back to their native villages like the people of Madhu Road village.

[Full Coverage]

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