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1. There was concern that we would hold the displaced indefinitely in what were termed internment camps, and not resettle them

I was told recently by a friend that he felt we were not actually addressing the concerns that had been raised with regard to Sri Lanka. I was surprised, because I thought we had been doing this throughout. However, I could see that, in assessing the methodologies adopted to attack us, we might have been distracting attention away from simple facts. It might be useful therefore to record specific concerns – but in doing so it will be clear that, the moment one concern is addressed, another is raised, sometimes with blatant inconsistency.

1. There was concern that we would hold the displaced indefinitely in what were termed internment camps, and not resettle them.

We pointed out three reasons for keeping them in welfare centres, which were by no means internment camps. The term internment refers to taking people from their homes into custody, whereas we were dealing with people who had been taken from their homes, which were in heavily mined areas. Some of those people were security risks given their involvement, whether willingly or not, in terrorism.

Apart from security checks, we noted the need to demine the areas to which people were being returned, as well as the need to restore at least basic infrastructure. Now that that has been done, all but 10,000 of the displaced have been resettled.

Mechanical demining

As a result, we got little assistance initially, except from the Indian government, for demining. We therefore spent a massive amount of money on equipment – after which UNHCR also donated five or so machines, far fewer than the 25 or so we had bought. Our army did most of the demining required, and we were able to begin resettlement within a few months.

3.  Subsequently concern was expressed that we were resettling too quickly, without proper attention to demining.

Since resettlement began there have been hardly any mine related incidents in the areas of resettlement. I believe, apart from the death of a foreign demining expert, there was only one casualty in the Wanni last year, a boy who had been sent to collect firewood in an uncleared and marked area, whose leg was blown off.

This should be contrasted with a far higher number of accidents in the Northern peninsula, which had been demined by international agencies after it was freed from LTTE control in 1996. It should also be contrasted with incidents elsewhere, such as Cambodia, which suffered from constant explosions for years after conflict ceased. Read the rest of this entry »

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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue at the Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

Returnees at Work

But all this is for the future. For the present, what needs to be done to ensure continuing cooperation of the sort that allowed us to overcome terrorism so effectively, while forestalling any backlash within India? In the first place, obviously, we need to continue with activities that will ensure the confidence of the Tamil people within Sri Lanka, but also outside. I refer here by the latter not only to people in Tamil Nadu, but also to the diaspora, some of whom were prepared to threaten the unity of India in addition to that of Sri Lanka, in seeking to deal with grievances real and imaginary.

In what are I think the most important respects, we have done a good job, and will obviously continue on that path. I mean here the programme of rapid resettlement, together with the rehabilitation of former combatants, most of whom we realize were relatively innocent victims of Tiger compulsions. The figures here speak for themselves, and we cannot stress enough how the myths of yesteryear, that we were keeping the displaced in long-term detention, that we were treating former cadres as prisoners, have been so conclusively exploded.

We made it clear that we could not return the displaced immediately, because of the landmines, because of the need for at least basic infrastructure to be in place before people could resume their lives, and because of security considerations. But we made a pledge, soon after the defeat of the Tigers, that the bulk of the returns would take place within six months, and we stuck by this, albeit with slight delays. We must appreciate in this regard the confidence India placed in us, and also the enormous assistance proffered for the purpose, in particular with regard to demining and the provision of shelter. In a sense that approach was an object lesson to those who were less anxious about the displaced than about scoring brownie points with pressure groups through vociferous criticisms of the Sri Lankan state.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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