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An English class in Batticaloa

There has been so much interest about resettlement and rebuilding in the North that the East has been comparatively neglected. I had not been there for six months myself, which was sad for that was an area I had been in constantly from the eighties onward.

Way back then, I had persuaded the British Council to stage cultural events there, solo performances by Geraldine McEwan and Richard de Zoysa, and even an extraordinary Exhibition called ‘Painting the Town’ which allowed me to stay nearly a week at the Batticaloa Resthouse. Then there had been a period in which we implemented a project to supply furniture to schools, part of British aid after the signing of the Indo-Lankan Accord and what seemed peace. When the Tigers proved intransigent and began to fight, first with the Indian army and then against us, ODA (as DFID was then known) was persuaded to continue with the Project in select districts, which included Amparai. Those were days when British Council officials were more sympathetic about the country in which they served, a trait that sadly cannot be expected any more given career imperatives. But, to our relief, when the Project was reviewed, ODA declared that it had been one of the most efficiently implemented, not just here but generally speaking.

Then there were the Affiliated University Colleges, where I looked after Specialist and General English Courses in Trincomalee and in Amparai. Overlapping with this was the pre-University GELT course, when we had Centres in places as far off the beaten track as Mutur and Tirukkovil. Visiting the latter, I recall the laconic comment of the soldier at the checkpoint when I asked if I could go down the road to Tirukkovil.

‘You can go,’ he said, ‘Whether you can come back is another question.’

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Abandoned bicycles in Mullaitivu

One reason why I suspect reconciliation will be easier in Sri Lanka than in many places that have suffered conflict is the level of suffering inflicted by the LTTE on the Tamil people. There was also an extraordinary hierarchical system, which gave great advantages to the privileged whilst the others had to serve them unquestioningly.

One aspect of this tyranny was the manner in which everyone was forced to flee along with the Tigers into smaller and smaller areas in smaller and smaller modes of transport. One family described how they had loaded all their goods, including the roof materials of their house, into a lorry as they were forced east towards Kilinochchi. When they had to move from Kilinochchi, they had only a portion of a lorry. Then it was a tractor, and finally bikes.

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Soldiers clearing up a kovil for the Thai Pongal festival

In the long hard haul that the process of resettlement has entailed, perhaps the most remarkable factor is the role played by the military. After the enormous effort involved in defeating the LTTE, there was no respite for the soldiers. Instead they have continued to work at a level of intensity that is sadly not recognized.

Indeed the opposite has been true, not only in terms of the relentless international pressure with regard to what are termed war crimes, but also through insidious opposition to any role at all for the military in the situation following the military conflict. This is astonishing, for in most countries the military has a significant role to play in disaster management, and indeed many training programmes are conducted around the world to develop their capacities in this regard and to ensure productive liaison with civil authorities.

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A school in the resettled area of Kiranchy in Kilinochchi

The process of resettlement is proceeding apace now, with well over 120,000 persons having gone back to locations in the Northern Province. Of these the more complex returns were to areas previously under the control of the LTTE in sections of Mannar and Vavuniya and in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.

Whilst I had anticipated that the first two areas would be resettled rapidly, I was not so sanguine some months ago about the other districts. However, with the three basic prerequisites for resettlement fulfilled, government was able to move swiftly in those areas too. It is likely then that almost all the remainder in the Welfare Centres, over 80,000, will also go back soon. Indeed even the more than 50,000 who have left the Centres over the last few months, and sought shelter elsewhere, may well decide that they too can go back home, along with the thousands from the Vanni, the so-called old IDPs, who had much earlier sought the safety of government controlled areas in Jaffna and Mannar and Vavuniya.

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Entrepreneurship in the North

Expanded version of the speech by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the BizPact Investment Forum, Public Library Jaffna, January 6th 2010.

Let me begin by thanking the Business for Peace Alliance for allowing me to address this third panel of your Investment Forum here in Jaffna. I should note that I feel under somewhat false pretences in talking to you about investment opportunities and operational support, because I am not a businessman, and this is the area of expertise of the Board of Investment, Banks like the Sanasa Bank, the Employers Federation, and other purveyors of prosperity.

However, they have already addressed you, in very positive terms, so let me take a few moments to address an important conceptual issue in extending my thanks to all of you for being here. Yesterday you might have noticed how lively the streets of Jaffna were, even at dusk, which is a far cry from the situation we had here even a month ago. Things have however been constantly improving since my first visit here in over two decades, when I came at the end of 2008 to open the Future Minds Exhibition. My previous visit had been in August 1981, just after the burning of the Jaffna Public Library, one of the most horrendous acts committed with what seems to have been at least some ministerial complicity, though fortunately that tradition seems to have died even in the political party then in government.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

March 2010
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