Some Opposition politicians are demanding that IDPs in welfare villages be resettled immediately before the onset of monsoon rains. There is no gainsaying that the war displaced are languishing in those places and they must be helped to return home and rebuild their lives as soon as possible. But, before that, there is so much of groundwork to be done.
The biggest obstacle to resettlement is the heavy presence of deadly mines which fleeing terrorists `sowed` haphazardly. The newly liberated parts of the Vanni are a veritable minefield and mine clearing is a time consuming dangerous exercise to be conducted cautiously and thoroughly.
Most infrastructural facilities in the Vanni did not survive the bloody war. Artillery duels and willful destruction by terrorists of public and private property have left the war ravaged areas virtually devoid of infrastructure. Restoration of infrastructure is a prerequisite for resettlement. Houses need to be repaired or rebuilt. Roads have to be rehabilitated. Electricity and water supplies need to be restored and schools and hospitals renovated and re-equipped.
Besides, national security requires systematic screening of all IDPs to trace LTTE killers masquerading as civilians. One may be wary of subscribing to the numbers the government generously dishes out but there are certainly LTTE combatants among IDPs. They fled to the government controlled areas while the war was raging as part of the LTTE`s Plan B. Its Plan A was to trap the military and wipe it out. That was why Solheim and other LTTE apologists including some Opposition politicians and media pundits were hopeful that Prabhakaran would turn Kilinochchi into a Stalingrad for President Mahinda Rajapaksa by trapping and annihilating troops in that fortified township. As much as the Russians banked on `General Winter` to help them with the task of massacring Germans, Prabhakaran expected `General Monsoon` to side with him. But, the weather gods favoured the army! The rest is history.
It was in keeping with the LTTE`s Plan B that Prabhakaran set up huge underground arms caches, fuel dumps etc., in many strategically vital locations. He wanted his fighters to flee to the government-held areas in the garb of civilians and attack the army from behind with the help of hidden arms. But, unfortunately for the star-crossed Tiger chief, the army was smart enough to anticipate his move and take precautions. The army launched a thorough search for hidden weapons etc., and its efforts have yielded impressive results. Arms and ammunition sufficient for several times the actual number of LTTE combatants were unearthed prompting President Rajapaksa to wonder if Prabhakaran was planning to take on some other country in case of his victory over Sri Lanka.
However, all indications are that there are many more underground arms caches. Unless they are detected, surviving LTTE cadres will have access to arms to resort to residual terror attacks, as Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has rightly said. There is also the danger of those arms finding their way into the underworld.
Funds for resettlement and reconstruction are not forthcoming and the government has had to make do with available resources. Although Sri Lanka cannot demand funds from other countries as of right, it is surprising that foreign `do-gooders` weeping buckets for the displaced have not yet carried out their aid pledges.
Thus, it may be seen that resettlement is a multifaceted problem and cutting the Gordian knot is out of the question. It requires careful handling if the solution is not to lead to unforeseen problems.
It behoves the Opposition politicians to desist from using IDPs as bludgeon to beat their opponents. If they think the public will take their resettle-IDPs-immediately campaign seriously, they are sadly mistaken. For, they have forfeited their credibility. It is only too well known that they are looking for a new cause to prop themselves up.
When war broke out in 2006, many Opposition top guns declared the Sri Lankan military was not equal to the task. Then they concocted a theory of a secret pact between the government and the LTTE. Terrorists had withdrawn from the East, we were told, in keeping with that pact according to which the government had given the LTTE safe passage. The Opposition claimed the so-called secret pact prevented President Rajapaksa from attacking Kilinochchi and challenged the government to take war to the Vanni if it dared. After the Vanni offensive kicked off, key Opposition politicians sought to ridicule battlefield victories of the army by claiming that the LTTE was staging tactical withdrawals and the army was heading for `Pamankada` and `Medawachchi` thinking it was moving in the direction of `Alimankada` and `Kilinochchi`. After Kilinochchi fell and the army trapped the LTTE leaders in Mullaitivu, some Opposition bigwigs audaciously demanded to know why Prabhakaran and other terrorist leaders had not been captured or killed. When Prabhakaran was done to death and the LTTE decapitated, the Opposition floated a story that the LTTE was far from vanquished as KP was still at large. Then KP was bagged and the Opposition was left without a straw to clutch at. And it has now turned to IDPs!
It is not being argued that every thing is hunky dory in the welfare villages. Their conditions are far from satisfactory and the government ought to get its act together instead of burying its head in the sands of rhetoric. But, the blame for appalling conditions in welfare camps must be apportioned to those who opposed the construction of better houses to accommodate IDPs on grounds that the government was planning to keep the war displaced there permanently or there was a secret plan to settle Sinhala civilians after the IDPs were resettled. Now, we have the same worthies demanding better housing for IDPs!
What IDPs need is tangible assistance to rebuild their lives and not hollow political slogans. They can do without crocodile tears of wily politicians looking for something to hold on