Visiting Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler has proved that the US is not devoid of reasonable decision makers capable of reaching out to the rest of the world and understanding others` problems. Having seen for himself the IDP centres in the North, he has appreciated the government`s effort to shelter those unfortunate war displaced posthaste and stressed the need to do a lot more and resettle them as soon as possible. One could not agree with him more!
What many foreign dignitaries and media personnel who visited those welfare centres before Shuler did was nothing but demolition work to discredit this country. They let their prejudices and hidden agendas get the better of judgment, turning a Nelsonian eye to all the good work being done there. The conditions at the IDP centres are far from satisfactory. But, are the critics of Sri Lanka aware that more than one half of people in Colombo live in slums and shanties?
There are three main obstacles to resettlement: lack of funds, mines and security concerns. Resettlement does not mean bussing people whence they came. Their houses need to be repaired or rebuilt and infrastructure restored. This is a gargantuan task which requires a great deal of funds. Demining, as Shuler has rightly pointed out, `forms a crucial aspect of this process`. Removing mines and booby traps is not something like baking hoppers it is extremely time consuming. Even after demining, risks won`t go away for years to come as the LTTE literally sowed mines in the Vanni in a desperate bid to stop the army. The government`s security concerns are not unfounded. IDP centres are heavily infiltrated, as evident from the recent capture of KP`s right hand man masquerading as a displaced person.
The original plan of the LTTE was to infiltrate the cleared areas and launch attacks by using arms and ammunition hidden in various places so that the infantrymen would be trapped between one section of the terrorists fighting a conventional war and the other resorting to classical guerrilla tactics from behind. Prabhakaran`s plan went awry as the army was wise enough to look for hidden weapons and thoroughly screen IDPs without giving in to pressure. Even the Japanese Special Peace Envoy Yasushi Akashi recognized its importance.
TULF leader V. Anandasangaree, who fearlessly stood up to the LTTE, has requested the government to hand over at least pregnant women and mothers with infants to their relatives so that they could be provided with special care. The government has rightly decided to permit the aged, the injured and the disabled. It is a step in the right direction. The TULF leader`s request must also be granted so that the children to be born will be healthy and their mothers safe.
As for the whole caboodle of INGOs demanding access to IDP camps, the government ought not to lower its guard. The captains of the Victim Industry are hell bent on making a business out of human suffering as foreign funds are drying out for their expensive yet useless conflict resolution projects. The INGO sector is full of crooks. Some INGOs from the EU countries, it may be recalled, bolted out of the country having taken the money for building houses for tsunami victims! The opening up of the Vanni revealed that INGOs and NGOs operating in that part of the country for decades had done nothing in spite of whopping sums of money they received for the various projects they claimed to have implemented. Only earth bunds remain in that terrain. Where did all the money go? A probe is called for!
However, there is no gainsaying there are good humanitarian workers who could assist the government in rehabilitation and reconstruction work, though they are hard to come by. If INGOs and their local compatriots are to be permitted to operate in the cleared areas, they, too, must be screened properly. Since most of them have been registered haphazardly, the government may seriously consider their re-registration.
Finally, it is hoped that Shuler will be able to dispel misconceptions back at home about the outcome of Sri Lanka`s war.