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

Who says the Sri Lankan Government doesn’t look after the welfare of the Tamil Civilians fleeing LTTE control

By Shenali Waduge

There is nothing so absurd that it cannot be believed as truth if repeated often enough. Thus, terrorists came to be regarded as freedom fighters; a terrorist problem was treated as an "ethnic problem", solutions drafted to problems not known and presently a Government being blamed for civilians that are being held by the LTTE. Humanitarian agencies projected between 250,000 to 400,000 displaced civilians. The food convoys sent through 2008 were given much media hype for they carried the UN flags, that the supplies were given by the Government received less attention. Only 35,000 have so far come to cleared areas to seek solace with the Government and its troops but strangely enough the demands for food and other essentials to these people take second place for those who still enjoy vilifying the Government. The impartial few will only know what pressures the country and its Government is going through.

It is to be pointed out that while the 2002 Cease Fire Agreement demarcated territory to the LTTE, many UN Agencies and NGOs/INGOs were the only occupants other than Tamils and the LTTE in the LTTE’s defacto capital of Kilinochchi (some UN/NGO offices actually in close proximity to LTTE “offices” while some NGO offices were used by LTTE). It is these agencies that eventually quoted the IDP figures of 250,000 to 400,000 civilians who were likely to have been caught up and sandwiched between the LTTE and the advancing military. It is thus, pertinent to question the UN, NGOs and INGOs exactly how they derived at these figures. It was these figures that international media without verification enjoyed using to project a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Sri Lanka.

Since the closing of the A9 road in August 2006, the Government of Sri Lanka to date has sent 75,000 MT of food alone to the Wanni obviously relying on the figures quoted by the foreign humanitarian agencies who were stationed amongst the LTTE for a considerable number of years. From September to December 2008 alone the Government of Sri Lanka had sent 20,000 – 25,000 MT of food alone. The last convoy of food sent by the Government was on 29th January 2009. 600 metric tons sufficient for 100,000 people can last up to 2 weeks. There are only 35,000 civilians in total so far and the bulk of this number arrived towards early February when civilians started streaming in towards cleared areas. But, where has the food sent earlier actually gone to?

It must be reiterated that ‘No UN Agency’ are supplying food to the people in the Wanni except the WFP. The World Food Program contrary to what is projected and what international media projects supplies only 15-20% of the total requirement – the Government of Sri Lanka supplies all food, medicine and other essential items. Therefore, this clearly requires many who question the Government about the manner in which it looks after its citizens to take account of the reality of the situation.

Given that everyone accepted the figures of 250,000 to 400,000 civilians that authoritatively was relayed by UN and Other foreign humanitarian agency heads in Sri Lanka and repeated equally authoritatively by their heads in their main head offices, it behooves us to wonder where thousands of metric tons of food has actually gone to?

This question is never asked and never answered. The 75,000 MT of food alone is no small number, we are well aware that throughout the 25 years of LTTE terror their cadres including Prabhakaran have been fed by successive Governments of Sri Lanka. The LTTE may have received their arms from foreign countries either free or through procurement, but the food the LTTE and its cadres have eaten and the medicines used to dress their wounds have been that which the Governments of Sri Lanka have supplied. Many do not see or desire not to accept this reality.

Thus, if many of us assume that these bloated figures of civilian numbers were to facilitate the disbursement of food and other essentials into “unknown civilian” territory would we be far from the truth especially when we realize that the LTTE awaits any opportunity to stock food for its cadres! If many of us have assumed that the majority of food sent by the Government lies in LTTE hands our questions must be immediately raised to the UN and other agencies and ask them what game they are playing! It is prudent to quote the incident of 10th October 2008 when the 2nd convoy of 50 trucks with 750MT of food items did not leave as the UN/WFP did not wish to take the route given by the Security Forces.

Once again it is prudent to note that the UN/WFP have no right to dictate what routes should be taken. Their mandate being to only facilitate humanitarian needs. It must be also mentioned that during October 2008, the Government spent a further Rs.117million to repair dilapidated roads and streamline the delivery process as international organizations refused to attend deliveries citing practical difficulties.

The Government’s decision to close the A9 road became a major issue with the LTTE and “other facilitators’ of peace totally disregarding the fact that the LTTE uses the road to collect more than Rs.900,000 as illegal tax & other revenue from 7000-8000 civilians and 1000-1200 vehicles that use that stretch on a daily basis. Records also reveal that the LTTE extortions amount to Rs.200-300million from Jaffna bound cargo passing through Pallai. Therefore closure of A9 was a dent to LTTE’s income though we are aware that through its other clandestine operations globally LTTE’s wealth is USD200-300million (Jane’s Intelligence Report) Not a rupee has been used to feed the Tamil people, not a rupee used to buy medicine or a rupee to even build a hospital or school but there is a Tamil Diaspora that cries for the LTTE but who has asked how many hospitals the LTTE has built, how many schools the LTTE has made?

It is obvious that international media are ignorant of or choose to ignore the ground realities. Media coverage often attempts to deny the Government apparatus its due credit in facilitating humanitarian aid and welfare to its citizens. Little are we aware that the Government’s welfare to its citizens in the Jaffna peninsula is via the sea route where food and other essentials are sent through hired vessels protected by the Sri Lanka Navy. The entire port operations are free and the Government’s commitment to this effort is Rs.2billion. The Commissioner of Essential Services Mr. Divaratne assures that there is a buffer stock of fuel and food in the peninsula to last 3 months. Not many of us are aware that there are no power cuts in Jaffna that 34 new buses were deployed by the Government that all hospitals and schools are running & free uniforms were distributed amongst the Jaffna school children even before they were distributed in Colombo.

It is painfully obvious that world Governments, the UN and other humanitarian agencies have for years enjoyed vilifying the Government with little or no admonition for the LTTE and its terrorist activities. With the LTTE facing an obvious military defeat, the very Governments that pressurized Sri Lanka to enter peace talks now “advise” the Government not to talk with terrorists. Just as there are some who wish to resuscitate the LTTE, others have subtly decided to shift stance and distance themselves from the LTTE. TNA’s Sampanthan is one such pro-LTTE supporter now distancing himself obviously realizing that Parliamentary Elections are coming up next year which leaves little hope for any member of the TNA returning as an MP. Once hostile media outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera (BBC has had an uncanny knack of being pro-LTTE throughout) are now for the first time showing library pictures by the Sri Lanka Army prior to which footage shown was those that had been compiled by a banned LTTE front organization. Suddenly even UNICEF is speaking of child soldiers now though the UN has enough of reports on LTTE recruitment of children it begs to ask UNICEF whether LTTE’s recruitment of children is only sporadic and why nothing has been done so far against the LTTE and what good would these statements do now when the LTTE is fighting to survive with a handful of their leaders left and a dilapidated force?

It is therefore essential that we do not deny the Government due credit for the arrangements thus far taken to ensure that stocks of food are sent to the Wanni, are in stock in Vavuniya though media footage of UN flags on trucks and lorries give a different story just as international media tend to focus on ICRC staff assisting civilians over the dedicated and affectionate service given by the armed forces of Sri Lanka in a ship organized by the Sri Lankan Navy. Not a word gets said for the manner in which unarmed military men and women welcome the fleeing Tamil civilians. Not much is said on how the elderly, the pregnant & the weak are carried by unarmed military men and women. Not much was said for the unarmed men and women of the military who only the day before were shown on Tv, playing with children and feeding Tamil civilians in their custody when an LTTE suicide woman blew herself up killing the unarmed military officers totally 28 deaths.

Month’s back we were told that somewhere between 250,000 to 400,000 civilians were displaced – all hands pointed at the Government and found fault with it for not protecting or saving them. Fault was conveniently channeled away from the LTTE in whose area the civilians were held. Their actual numbers cannot be proved even by the very agencies that predicted these figures. Even now, that 35,000 civilians are looked after in Government welfare centers, not many rush with “humanitarian aid” at least in the form of a toy for the children, toiletries or any other item to assist the Government. Only members of the public have taken it upon themselves to gather together to look after their own people as rightfully they should do.

When you know the truth, the truth makes you a soldier. – Gandhi

- Asian Tribune -