Welcoming Russia s decision to provide assistance to IDPs through the Sri Lankan government, Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe yesterday (Oct 8) said it was significant as other donors always operated through UN agencies and INGOs.
Addressing the press at the Russian Centre, Samarasinghe said such assistance would further strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries. Responding to The Island queries, he said that the government remained committed to looking after people accommodated at welfare camps, though the British had said that they would stop funding routine services inside the camps. The minister acknowledged that Sri Lanka had not received British assistance directly though funds had been made available through the UN system and other INGOs.
British International development Minister Mike Foster early this week said Britain would cut down on aid for IDP camps where over a quarter of million people were held. News agencies quoted him as saying that many other donor
nations would take a similar stand to pressure Sri Lanka to release the IDPs before the onset of monsoon rains.
Samarasinghe said overseas assistance received for IDP welfare was supplementary to funds spent by Sri Lanka. The government had committed sizeable funds for the acquisition of mine clearing equipment.
Samarasinghe emphasised that clearing mine fields would be a prerequisite for the resettlement of the displaced. If they were allowed to return to their villages before the removal of mines, their lives would be at risk, he said stressing that the on-going mine clearing operations carried out by the Sri Lanka Army met the UN recommended standards. He said Russia had firmly stood by Sri Lanka.
The Russian Ambassador in Colombo, Vladamir Mihailo, while welcoming Sri Lanka s victory over LTTE terrorism assured all possible assistance without preconditions. He said the items handed over to Sri Lanka included mobile power stations, tents, blankets, canned meat, canned fish and large consignments of medicine as well as disinfectants.
Ambassador Mihailo said Russia would also assist Sri Lanka in mine clearing operations. According to him, two Russian specialists had arrived in Colombo for discussions with Sri Lankan authorities in this regard. He said Sri Lanka was capable of handling the IDP issue albeit with difficulty. He said Russia, too, was concerned about living conditions in the IDP camps.
Meanwhile, British High Commission spokesman Dominic Williams yesterday told The Island that Britain had provided 12.5 million pounds sterling in support of Sri Lankan efforts to look after the IDPs. Responding to our queries, he said that funds had been made available though the UN network as well as other INGOs. Referring to British International development Minister s statement that British funds would not fund routine services inside camps, Williams said that of the funds made available since September last year, about 4.8 million pounds Sterling remained. He said the remaining funds could be used to help maintain camps while the monsoon rains lasted. But once the rains end, the money would be available only for helping the displaced to return to their villages and start re-building their lives.
Williams said the funds provided for INGOs engaged in mine clearing operations in the north, too, were part of the 12.5 million pounds sterling.
The Defence Ministry told The Island that the bottomline was that a section of the international community wanted the government to open IDP facilities but this could not done as it would posed a serious threat to national security. A senior official said that LTTE terrorists remained with civilians waiting for an opportunity to resume attacks.
Sources said that international donors had so far provided US $ 196 million for IDPs.