The US and its allies made a hullabaloo over what they termed the internment of the northern IDPs and brought enormous pressure to bear on the Sri Lankan government to expedite their resettlement. Although it was pointed out that the Vanni was heavily mined and demining had to be completed before the area was declared safe for civilians to return, there was no let-up in the US-led campaign for resettlement. Among other reasons given by the government for the delay in resettlement were the uphill task of rebuilding and the heavy presence of LTTE cadres in IDP camps, who had to be apprehended and rehabilitated or prosecuted. But, the western powers did not give a tinker`s damn about them they wanted resettlement completed forthwith.
Mine clearing has been stepped up at an astonishing pace and IDPS are being resettled rapidly. More than one half of them have already returned home and the government is sanguine about resettling all IDPs either by the end of January 2010 or even by the end of this year.
The areas IDPs are returning to have, in fact, been cleared of mines. Else, the UN would not have permitted resettlement. Rebuilding is also going on and those who return seem to be in a position to make do with available facilities for the time being, meagre as they are. But, the government has taken a huge risk by releasing IDPS with LTTE cadres among them.
One of our readers makes an interesting point in a letter published on the opposite page. Referring to a US travel advisory to its citizens visiting Sri Lanka against travelling to the northernmost areas as well as most parts of the Eastern Province in view of land mines and other security concerns, he points out that it was for the same reasons that the Sri Lankan government was keeping IDPs in the welfare centres!
How is it that the US, which considers the northernmost parts of Sri Lanka unsafe for US citizens, thinks those areas are safe for resettling IDPs? Shouldn`t it tell the Sri Lankan government to suspend the resettlement programme immediately, until the situation improves?
The US travel advisory also gives rise to another question. The UN should, as is well known, certify an area as mine free after demining for the resettlement of IDPs to begin. There is no reason to believe that the government is resettling IDPs without UN `certification`. In fact, Minister of Human Rights and Disaster Management Mahinda Samarasinghe and Minister of Rehabilitation and Disaster Relief Services Risath Bathiyutheen have categorically stated that resettlement commences only after UN certification. Therefore, the question is whether the US does not want to trust the UN, when it tells its citizens not to travel to the areas, where IDPs have already been resettled following UN mine clearancecertification.
After all, mine clearing operations are being handled by demining experts including foreign trained personnel and members of the armed forces trained for that purpose under a US sponsored project. There is no room for anyone to argue that the US is only wary of its citizens visiting areas other than those certified as mine-free by the UN in the North and the East, because the US travel advisory makes a sweeping statement about the danger of mines.
The US says there is a potential danger of attacks by remnant members of the LTTE. Unfortunately, this danger was never factored in, when the US and its allies pressured Sri Lanka to release IDPs regardless of the presence of terrorirsts among them. How strange!
Now that a large number of LTTE combatants have escaped mingling with the IDPs released so far, there is the likelihood of some of them resorting to terrorist activities absit omen! How come the US, which fears for the safety of its citizens visiting Sri Lanka in view of remnant terrorists, unflinchingly pressured the Sri Lankan government to resettle IDPs in spite of that grave security threat?
The US warns its citizens against using public buses in Sri Lanka claiming that they (buses) were previously targets of LTTE bomb attacks and remain targets of criminal activity. In other words, the US is of the view that Sri Lanka is not yet completely free from terrorist threats. Does this mean that Sri Lanka should continue its anti-terror operations, maybe on a different scale, at least until all parts of its territory and public transport become safe for Sri Lankans and American visitors alike?