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A Newspaper Published by World Institute for Asian Studies. Powered by WIAS, Vol. 7 No. 001

Basil ticks off Britain, Norway, says ‘transitional’ villages are planned to house IDPs for short stay

By K.T.Rajasingham

Colombo, 18 February, (Asiantribune.com): Taking Norway and Britain for harping upon the same old ceasefire tune, Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa made it clear that for Sri Lanka government immediate priority was rehabilitation of traumatized people emerging out of LTTE clutches. Chinese model of rehabilitation was being adopted to quickly settle the displaced families in 'transitional' village, he told Asian Tribune in an interview. Basil RajapaksaBasil Rajapaksa

Neither Britain which anounced of appointing a special envoy for Sri Lanka nor Norway who played the role of a peacenik for long years has cared to bother about resettlement issues. Neither Britain nor Norway has offered even a single GBP or Euro for the rehabilitation works, Basil Rajapaksa said.

He however categorically stated that the Sri Lankan government was not tossing the bowl for donations. 'We have the wherewithal to handle the job, whoever wants to send help can do so through Red Cross or any other such organization'.

Answering intense probing about rehabilitation plans, the senior advisor said President Rajapaksa during his China visit, met the earthquake victims there and studied firsthand the rehabilitation methods adopted by the Chinese. "He found the IDPs were happy to stay in temporary shelters until they are permanently resettled in their original habitats. President has asked us to do the same things here. These transitional villages are organized with all facilities and these are for a very short stay, maximum of three to four months".

One such transitional village is coming up at Kadirakamar. It is located in the Menik Farm, about 49 KM from Vavuniya. The medical association's doctors union has sent doctors as volunteers, and counseling officers to take care of IDPs arriving in Vavuniya.

In addition, he said the government is also converting some schools, education centers, technical college, and university campus as temporary shelters. The UN and UNICEF have given tents which have been put up and the people housed in these tents are given pre-cooked food from Air Force station

Full Text of the Interview:

Asian Tribune : I read a news report, as you were saying and cautioning about the potential large scale suicide attempt by Prabhakaran and his people?

Basil Rajapaksa: It was a fabricated news report, total lie. Actually, I did not say that. It was that particular reporter who wrote that news report told me that there is some story like this and asked me what I think about it? I told him I don't know anything about it. I told him it must be all some propaganda stuff. But he has reported as if I have said about the mass suicide attempt by Prabhakaran and his people. They even have come up with another lie, saying that we wanted to keep the IDPs in the transition camps for years.

Asian Tribune: Can you give us more specific details?

Basil Rajapaksa: You may be aware that earlier we resettled Internally Displaced People in no time in Muthur. Those displaced people, about 40,000 in all and we resettled them within 40 days. Some organizations like UN even protested for resettling in such a quick double time.

The funniest part of it was some UN Organization advertised for people to work with these IDPs for 4 long years, before they are all being completely resettled. They were planning to keep the IDPs in Muthur for 4 years. But we resettled them within 40 days and the IDPs in Vakarai, we resettled them within 3 months.

Asian Tribune: How many people were involved in the resentment in Vakarai?

Basil Rajapaksa: Off hand I am not sure about the number – it may be around 50,000, but we resettled almost 90% of those IDPs in the Vakarai in their own habitat.

It must be also told that earlier the people in Vakarai were under the control of the LTTE. As the area was under the control of Tamil Tigers, people earlier did not have electricity. They did not have even good roads, no bus or any other basic necessities.

But, before they were resettled, we provided to them all these facilities. So not only they were settled in their original habitat, but we also provided them with the basic facilities.

Actually we are now planning to resettle those people from Mannar by the New Year - this April. The delay in resettling the IDPs from Mannar is because a large area has to be demined.

The resettlement arrangement successfully undertook by us in the Eastern Province was a record. But do you know the history? Those Muslims from the North who were chased out by the LTTE in the early part of the 1990s, more than 100,000 of them are still languishing in the refugee camps in the Puttalam district for nearly 20 long years.

These people were made IDPs by the LTTE who were responsible for chasing out them by giving merely 2-hours notice to vacate their houses in the North and leave.

Furthermore, the Tamils of Indian origin who left the upcountry and settled down in Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu were also chased out by the LTTE to Vavuniya and they are there in the camps for the past 15 years and are still suffering in refugee camps in Vavuniya.

Asian Tribune: How many people of Indian origin are still suffering without a roof over their heads?

Basil Rajapaksa: I am not sure of the total number of people, but the figure is more than 10,000 families. In fact according to our information, they don't like to go back to the estates in the Up-country, but they were simply chased out by the LTTE in the early part of 1996 from Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Mannar and also from some parts of Vavuniya. Now they are languishing in the Vavuniya in the camps.

Asian Tribune: You say about 10,000 families belonging to Tamils of Indian origin are ethnically cleansed by the LTTE and still languishing in the camps?

Basil Rajapaksa: Yes. However, now we are making arrangements to resettle them in their places of choices. When speaking about refugees, what about the Palestine people, who are refugees for more than 70 years now. So far the British and the international community have failed to resettle them.

It has to be told that with the view to resettle the Internally Displaced People of the North, Sri Lanka President in his last budget speech for 2009 introduced Vadakkin Vasantham programme : In Sinhalese, it is Uthura Vasanthiya. He has introduced it already and now we are doing it in stages.

First stage begins with when the people cross the LTTE line to come to the government control area and in the beginning the military take over them. IDPs come from West, North and South but east there is the sea that they cannot leave. Yesterday some people came from boat as well.

When they come, there are military doctors who will perform medical checkup and treat them if they have any conditions and if there is any medical emergency, they are air lifted to hospitals in Anuradhapura, or to hospital located as far as in Kurunegalle and Kandy areas.

Military personnel then do the screening for explosives, weapons and other things.

Initially when they cross into the Government areas, we give them energy pack with fruity energy drink, Glucose, water bottles and a packet of biscuit. Then we give them hot cooked meals provided by the army and by some cooks that we have sent. Every day we airlift some snacks, like Sri Lankan cookie called Yanakadai then bunnis or sandwich and these are given to them. Within one and a half days, we transport them on busses to Vavuniya and we have provided more than 100 of busses there to transport civilians from IDP reception centres to Vavuniya.

Asian Tribune: This is from the Visuvamadu area?

Basil Rajapaksa: Yes, from there we transfer them to Vavuniya and there the Government Agent of Vavuniya takes over them. Our medical association's doctors union has sent doctors as volunteers, counseling officers from hospital to take care of the traumatized IDPs arriving in Vavuniya.

We have converted some schools, education centers, technical college, and university campus as temporary shelters. The UN and UNICEF have given us temporary tents which have been put up and the people we take them in these places and we give them cooked meals.

We are looking after them followed by providing the medical help and other required services. That is the safe zone, but we don't want to keep them in this camp for a long time. Firstly they were moved to temples and schools and within couple of days we build temporary shelters and move them to those shelters. Because at the moment those villages don't have problem of using the schools, but later as educational centers would be needed for the children in the Vavuniya district, therefore we don't want to keep them in schools, that is why we have started building temporary shelters.

Asian Tribune: I saw the cabinet paper, it says the Government is planning to build 8,000 temporary houses.

Basil Rajapaksa: Not temporary residence, we are trying to organize transitional villages. These transitional villages will include all the required necessary facilities. Now we have started the Kadirakamar transition village.

Asian Tribune: Where is that located ?

Basil Rajapaksa: That is located in the Menik Farm about 49 KM from Vavuniya. We are building four transition villages, namely Kadirkamar village, Sir Arunachalam village, Sir Ramanathan village and Anananda Coomarasamy village.

We are planning to provide everything in these transition villages such as - water, toilets, individual single standing houses, schools from grade 1 to Advanced Level, ID centres, then we have the health centres, cooperative, sub office of the Pradeshiya Sabaha – Local Council and we have a youth centre, vocational training centres - now we have started two courses, Mason and sewing classes.

We have also set up special care divisions for old aged and disabled people. This is the complete thing that is available in these transition Villages. From the transition villages we will resettle these people in their original habitat as early as possible maximum within two to three months.

We are planning to resettle the IDPs from Mannar before this April.

The President wants it done by the next Yala season that is by April 2009. Before that we have to take care of the road clearance and constructions, and then to restore law and order by setting up civil police stations. We have already started works on all these aspects in some areas. Then we do the civil demining to clear mines, and then we clear and restore the hospitals and then the schools.

Asian Tribune: How much money is needed to do all these things?

Basil Rajapaksa: You cannot calculate that, but whatever money that is provided in the budget is now being made used to facilitate to rehabilitate the IDPs and to subsequently resettle them in their original habitat.

Asian Tribune: What about asking funds from other countries?

Basil Rajapaksa: I will come to that subject later. We also would set up cooperative outlets as well as cooperative societies in the original habitats of the IDPs before resettling them and once the infrastructure developments are in place, after that we will bring the people for resettlement. Without schools, without health facilities, without the cooperative we cannot bring the people and resettle them in their original habitats. Once we resettle the people, our responsibility as a responsible Government of the people will not be over, we have to start their livelihood programs.

Now we have done all these and we have done very well and in every stages various organizations help us - the UN relief expert are helping us, World Bank, Japanese Government, ADB. Already India has committed, ADB have committed and we are asking the Chinese government also. We have already sent some of our ministers to some countries to get help and assistances for laying new railway lines.

We have to restore the railway lines from Madawachchiya to Talaimannar which would be about 100 KM and also from Vavuniya to Kankesanturai which will be around 220 KM. We have to reinstall railway facilities to the North.

All these have to be done. Then we have to build provincial council buildings and we have to have the democratization process in place.

Asian Tribune: This is what we talked about other day in our interview with the President to invite all the Tamil Party leaders for a talks to put the democratization process in place in the North.

Basil Rajapaksa: You may be aware of our 4D concept - that is, Demilitarization, Democratization, Development and Devolution.

That is the final solution this is in the Mahinda Chinthana. The transitional village system is introduced by the President. When he went to China, he went to see the earthquake victims there. He saw the system Chinese adopts for the rehabilitation of those IDPs affected by the earthquake. In his interview with them, he found the IDPs were happy to stay their temporarily until they are permanently resettled in their original habitats. President has asked us to do the same things here. These transitional villages are organized with all facilities and this is for a very short stay until they are resettled in their original habitats.

But some people complain about it. When we don't have the facilities they say that these people have no basic facilities.

It is unfortunate that when we give more facilities according to the international standards to those occupying the transition centers temporarily, we find that a section of the press coming up with mudslinging against these arrangements.

A section of the press comes up with the misinformation campaign against the Government. They splash news items to say that we are planning to keep the inmates of the transitional camps permanently for years.

They are also alleging that we keep them in camps which are being barbed wired all sides.

You know in Sri Lanka, every school, every university campuses, every training colleges or even government offices, they are fenced. Furthermore, when we put the IDPs somewhere and we have to safeguard these people.

When we were handling the IDPS earlier in the Eastern province, one complaint brought by the UN and other INGOs working there was that they lost water pumps, roofing sheets and sometimes they said that the IDPs were forcefully recruited by the armed groups and taken away from the camps.

Therefore we are duty bounden to give full safety to these people. When we try our best to provide the maximum safety arrangements to the IDPs, a section of the press come up with unfounded allegations.

When we put temporary transitional houses we don't fell down the big trees that are in those compounds. Normally, we give every house two plastic chairs. One day members of a family sat in their chairs under the shade of the big tree as it was very hot summer day and were relaxing. They also made a cloth cot hanging in the branch of the tree and placed their child in it.

What happened was someone took photographs and published it in newspapers to allege that we are keeping the IDPs under trees and they are not provided with a roof over their heads.

Asian Tribune: I also have read this report sometime back.

Basil Rajapaksa: I know that many people would have read these type of distorted versions and that is why I am telling you.

There is another allegation - that we don't allow people to go to these transitional welfare camps. I remember that these types of allegations surfaced earlier in India also, that VIPs are not allowed to visit the camps of the Tsunami victims. Indian authorities also stopped VIPs and other people visiting those welfare centers because such visits normally used to disturb everything.

Please understand when some VIPs or people visit these centers, we have to mobilize the security and it is a huge operation. If in case diplomats, foreign politician, local politicians, and other VIPs visit these centers, and then it is a big security problem. We have to provide the security to the visiting VIPs and also we have to provide security to the inmates too.

Secondly if we allow people about 10-15 thousands to visit these welfare centers, then they come and they disturb all the other things even we have to provide shelter, we have to provide toilets.

You know we have brought all the bowsers in the country even from down south in Tangalle and Hambantota to distribute water to these camps. We have to provide electricity. Today a huge force of workers and, engineers are working and are putting shelters and we have to provide cooked meals. Even from the Vavuniyaa Air force we are taking daily 10,000 packages breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Asian Tribune :From the Air Force?

Basil Rajapaksa: Yes, Air Force, because to provide food for 40,000 IDPs is a gigantic operation. We are also getting ready for the arrival of the balance persons from the uncleared areas.

Asian Tribune: At present, we have 40,000 people in the camps?

Basil Rajapaksa: Yes, then it will hamper the whole operation if we allow visitors. This is what we think of. The third thing is when these so called VIP visitors visit these welfare centers; do you know what they do? When they come, they bring some bottles of water or give some handouts and take photographs of the innocent IDPs to get public by showing human misery in the international press.

Usually these so called VIP visitors look at the IDPs as if though they look at animals in a zoo. These IDPs are our own brethrens. They are Sri Lankans as we are. Unfortunately by being under the control of the Terrorists organization and also due to the armed conflict these people are traumatized and living with uncertainties. It is our duty to instill confidence in the minds and hearts of our brothers, sisters and children of our Sri Lanka.

We know well there were Tsunami tourists. They took pictures and go back to their countries and collected money by showing those pictures. Tsunami tourists took photographs of those Sri Lankan who were dead and showed the dead bodies and collected monies in their countries. Unfortunately whatever money thus collected has never been sent to Sri Lanka. I am not going to blame everyone. This is what happened to a large extent.

Earlier, aftermath of the tsunami they showed dead bodies. Now they are trying to photograph the traumatized IDPs. Why do these people want to come and look at them? If they want to genuinely help, they can help by handing over money or things. There are various channels, and they can give the donation to the government; can give through the departments or through the UN organization.

Asian Tribune: You have to set up a fund?

Basil Rajapaksa: No, no we don't want that type of help. It is a big mess. You can send to the Red Cross or any other organization that you prefer.

Asian Tribune : No, it is not a Sri Lankan organization. People don't like that. They always want to send it to a Sri Lankan organization?

Basil Rajapaksa: There is one already there.

Asian Tribune: What is the fund?

Basil Rajapaksa: The President Fund is the organization which look after these types of issues.

Asian Tribune:Then we have to give the account number of this Fund.

Basil Rajapaksa: But now we don't want to collect money from anybody at the moment, because that would tend to open doors to the corrupt practices. We have banned collecting money or any such contributions.

Do you know what happened earlier? They sold the pictures of dead bodies and collected money. And money thus collected never reached Sri Lanka. I think collecting money is not an important subject for discussion at the present time. We will talk about this later at an appropriate time.

In the meantime, we don't want the IDPs privacy disturbed. They are not caged animals. We have not even allowed our politicians such as Minister Douglas Devananda to visit IDP centres. Even people like Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chanthirakanthan who came from the East to Vavuniya with 6 lorry loads of food and other things for the refugees was advised not to attempt pay visit to the IDP centers. He handed over whatever he brought from the East to the GA and he went back. He did not go to visit the camps. So we are not allowing that. And also we are not allowing anyone.

We will publish in the newspapers and media, the names of the organizations that are helping the IDPS in the camps and details of what they are doing. For example, Red Cross will handle houses.

We will say that these are the organizations, who are working for the IDPs, so if somebody wants to help, please help those organizations whom we will announce shortly. Also everyone should know that except those organizations we will officially announce, no other organizations will be working with us.

We wish to emphasize this very aspect, because the international community should not waste their money by sending it to the wrong organizations.

In this opportunity some countries did not even given one single sterling pound or else a Euro, but they talk and they want to visit Sri Lanka and talk about the international standards and they want to teach us about how to treat these IDPs. We Sri Lankans will treat our citizen with better standard than any other people. Can anybody show any IDP camp in the world with better standard than what we have organized for the IDPs in the North. This can be taken as our challenge by any organizations internationally.

I forget to tell in the beginning that those IDPs coming to these transit camps will be registered and their information will be fed in the data bank. We will also issue special Identity Cards for those inmates in the transit centres. And also we intend have a hotline.

Asian Tribune: Hot line, what for?

Basil Rajapaksa: Anyone can call to check about their relatives.

Asian Tribune : You are going to prepare a list, so that anyone can contact to check whether their relatives are there?

Basil Rajapaksa: Yes, that is what I said. By contacting through the hotline anyone can contact the relevant centres and check details of their loved ones and relatives. That is what we have started. We did that during Tsunami, we did it in Eastern Province and the same programme we are doing at present.
Asian Tribune: Can you give us the hotline numbers?

Basil Rajapaksa: It is still not ready. It is being installed and it takes about a week and about 20 people are working on that process.

Asian Tribune: Norway came forward to facilitate the peace process. They said that they were involved in the peace process. Whole world knew that they haven't given at least 1 Norwegian Kroner for the rehabilitation works of the IDPs in the East. We want to know whether Norway had indicated that they want to help in the rehabilitation and resettlement of the IDPs in the North.

Basil Rajapaksa: So far we haven't heard anything from them. When we were resettling the IDPs in the East, they came and said about the ceasefire and they are still harping on the old tune. If you are in contact with them, please tell them to persuade the LTTE to release innocent civilians held hostages by them.

Kindly tell them that you can't come only for peace building alone and avoid these things in the future. If they are genuinely interested they should come now to help the IDPs.
Look at these British people, they are talking about Special Envoy and all those things and Britain is one of the two countries along with Norway which did not help in the resettlement of the IDPs in the East even with 1 single GBP or Euro for the rehabilitation of the IDPs in the East.

- Asian Tribune -