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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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The comparatively positive nature of the 2009 US State Department Report

Late in 2009 the US Department of State produced a ‘Report to Congress on Incidents during the Recent Conflicts in Sri Lanka’. The Report was shared in a very positive manner with the Sri Lankan government, and I regret very much that we did not immediately look into the matters it mentioned and produce a response to the US.

This was planned, and a Committee for the purpose was in fact appointed. I have no idea whether the general lack of urgency delayed things, but soon enough there were good reasons to feel suspicions about at least some Americans. The shenanigans with regard to General Fonseka were worrying, though I suspect we should realize that individual Americans may have exceeded their briefs in this regard. As with Sri Lankans, we cannot assume concerted policy in all cases where individuals go out on a limb, though again, as with Sri Lankans, the tendency to stand together leads to misunderstanding.

Still, we should understand that, at least in the American Defence establishment, there is a positive attitude to what we achieved. Indeed there is also awareness that excessive hypocrisy can be self-defeating, if ever international instruments subject America to the same relentless criticism some individuals apply to us, whether through self-righteousness or other more sinister motives.

Joanna van Gerpen meeting with S. P. Tamilselvan, the political leader of the LTTE, in Kilinochchi.

Joanna van Gerpen meeting with S. P. Tamilselvan, the political leader of the LTTE, in Kilinochchi.

What was interesting about the State Department Report was that it was balanced and indeed made clear the contribution of the LTTE to any abuses that might have occurred. Whereas some of those working for the UN took pains to suggest that government also bore some culpability with regard to child soldiers, the Report records 18 allegations about this appalling practice of the LTTE. Indeed if any blame should attach to the UN for its activities in Sri Lanka, it is with regard to the condoning of this practice by the UN in the years after the Ceasefire Agreement. The conduct of Joanna van Gerpen, who connived at the continuing recruitment of children over 17, with her failure to ensure proper use of the 1 million dollars that were given to the LTTE for rehabilitation, seems to me deplorable, and she should be deemed guilty by association at least of War Crimes, with appropriate recompense paid to those who suffered.

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The shrine room at PTK hospital - July 2011

The second great set piece of both the Darusman Panel Report and Gordon Weiss’s book is the alleged attact on Puthukkudiyirippu Hospital. The Report begins by claiming in Para 90 that ‘PTK hospital was the only permanent hospital left in the Vanni, and its neutrality was recognized by the Government and the LTTE… More than 100 new patients were arriving each day, many from the NFZ. Many had severe or life-threatening injuries caused by artillery fire or burns.40 The casualties, many of them babies, young children and the elderly, were packed in every conceivable space – on beds, under tables, in hallways and outside in the driveway’. It is claimed that many photographs of this were relayed both to UN Headquarters and to the Government.

The Report, in claiming that ‘between 29 January and 4 February, PTK hospital was hit every day by MBRLs and other artillery, taking at least nine direct hits’, declares baldly in a footnote that ‘Previously, PTK hospital had been shelled on 12 Jan. 2009’. This is a much larger claim than that made by Tamilnet on the 13th of January that one person was killed when the ‘hospital premises and its environs came under artillery fire’. Two days earlier it had been claimed that ‘Artillery shells exploded near Puthukkudiyirippu hospital’. This gives a very different picture, of possible collateral damage, in contrast to the efforts of the Panel to substantiate its dogmatic assertion that ‘The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines’. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2019
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