Close on the heels of the UNP-JVP combine seeking to rope in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to support the candidature of General (retd) Sarath Fonseka at the next presidential election against President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the government has moved to win over the TNA.
The UNP-JVP alliance was seeking the TNA s support for their candidate. Government sources told The Island that President Mahinda Rajapaksa s government, which militarily defeated the LTTE, had the strength to resettle the displaced and was confident of meeting the uphill task with the support of the international community.
In an unprecedented move, the Defence Ministry on Monday (Nov 16) arranged a TNA parliamentary group to visit areas west of the A9 road where the government was in the process of resettling the war displaced.
The delegation arrived at the Cheddikulam welfare centre against the backdrop of Opposition allegations that the government had failed to tackle the IDPs issue satisfactorily.
Northern Governor G. A. Chandrasiri, former Army Chief of Staff, told The Island yesterday that the visiting MPs had an opportunity to meet both, people currently accommodated at government-run welfare centres and those who had been recently resettled in areas west of the A9.
The former Jaffna Security Forces Commander said that the visit had helped to clear misconception that people had been held in appalling conditions. He said that the TNA delegation had been pleased with the situation. According to him, the delegation had an opportunity to visit Thunnukai, Manthai east and Manthai west, one-time LTTE strongholds liberated by the government during the Vanni campaign.
Security forces liberated some 15,000 sq. km. held by the LTTE following a three-year-offensive which brought the LTTE to its knees.
Responding to The Island queries, he said that the MPs also inspected the on-going mine clearing operations carried out by the army and five INGOs. He said that the army had deployed 24 mine clearing machines, each capable of clearing 5,000 square metres per day. He said that by end of this month, 200 more army personnel would join the mine clearing effort, thereby raising their deployment to 1,000 officers and men.
Chandrasiri said that the TNA would have also observed that foreign INGOs, too, had been deployed in support of Sri Lanka s mine clearing operations. Although some had accused the government of denying INGOs access to the IDPs, six INGOs, including two Indian groups as well as Swiss, British and Danish groups were active in the area. He added that mine clearing operations were also taking place at Dharmapuram and Nedunkerni.
He said that both the army and the INGOs had been operating in the Giant s Tank area. `We have earmarked 93 square kms to be cleared,` he said adding that the objective could be met within about four weeks.
According to him, the Giant s Tank had about six feet of water and once that reached nine feet people could cultivate more land.
Chandrasiri said that the TNA delegation had received a comprehensive briefing regarding the entire relief effort in the area. The government had deployed buses, tractors and a range of other vehicles in the area west of the A9 to facilitate relief operations.
He said that the number of persons accommodated at welfare camps had been reduced to 130,000.