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IDPs: Humanitarian versus security issues


Three months have passed since the war with the LTTE officially ended on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon with the slaying of LTTE leader Vellupilai Prabbhakaran and his top military leadership. However, with the ending of the war, the government was faced with another problem which was the rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced persons from the former LTTE held areas while weeding out the remaining vestiges of the Tigers from amongst them. While accommodating the close to 280,000 IDPs in camps in Vavuniya the government is facing fresh problems with the advent of the rainy season. Although the monsoon proper has not commenced as yet, the heavy rains that lashed some parts of the North during last week saw fresh problems coming up in some sections of the IDP camps where drainage lines were clogged and sewage pits overflowed. If not prepared, monsoon rains could compound such problems within the IDP camps in the coming weeks as diseases could spread easily. Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was quick to point out the adverse impact such a crisis would have on the good name of the country and called on the government to expedite the resettlement process of the IDPs. He called on the government to take action to resettle 80 percent of the IDPs by the end of this year as promised.

Although the government would dismiss the UNP leader’s statement, there is much reason to take caution of. It was only a few years back that the persons displaced from the Tsunami who were living in makeshift tents until they received proper housing, faced similar problems during the rainy season. Even in that occasion, despite the numbers being much less, there were grave health problems. Unlike the tsunami displaced, here a much larger population in temporary shelters is concentrated in one area. Also the tsunami displaced did not have restrictions on movement and lived within areas where life was moving as usual. In the case of the Vanni IDPs, the situation is much different and the government will have to prepare itself beforehand to avert a crisis if they are unable to resettle most of the displaced persons in the coming weeks.

Or else, any health and accommodation problems that could arise could lead to a humanitarian crisis which will generate much adverse publicity for the country. Such negative publicity would not help the government at all in the international level. In neighbouring India too it could again lead to pressure being mounted on the Central Government by the Tamilnadu state to deal with the IDP situation here. Tamilnadu Chief Minister and Congress party ally Mutuvel Karunanidhi has already written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regarding the Wanni IDPs. A crisis could only add fuel to any protests coming from Tamilnadu.

On the other hand the government is also faced with a difficult situation in its attempt to fully immobilize any remnants of the LTTE that could raise its head once the people are resettled and the area returns to normalcy. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s concerns in this regard are justified to a large extent when considering the amount of weapons and explosives that is unearthed from the former LTTE held areas. The Defence Secretary has pointed out that the release of IDPs without a full screening process that would help nab any remaining LTTE members would only pose a future security threat.

The Wanni IDPs in the first place were made displaced on the orders of the LTTE whose duel intention was to use them as a human shield and create a humanitarian crisis that would attract the attention of the western world. The Tigers almost succeeded in this strategy if not for the resolute determination of the President, the Defence Secretary and the Military hierarchy to completely destroy the LTTE even in the face of heavy pressure from the western block.  

However, as the war reached its point of no return and most of the displaced persons crossed over to the government controlled areas, it is no secret that some of the Tiger cadres too escaped hiding among the civilians with the intention of resuscitating the LTTE afterwards. Many of these LTTE members including some who had even planned major attacks are still being arrested from the IDP camps and questioned. The security forces too are surprised sometimes when they still keep unearthing heavy loads of weapons and explosives on the information provided by some of these newly arrested LTTE cadres even from areas that the military had earlier thought they had fully cleared.

Also several other factors regarding the Wanni IDPs have to be considered before they are released to be resettled. Chief of Defence Staff General Sarath Fonseka has pointed out that apart from ex-LTTE cadres who are undergoing rehabilitation, the IDPs too would have to undergo a collective rehabilitation before they are resettled. Most of the IDPs in the last several years have lived under the rule of the LTTE while being fed with their propaganda. General Fonseka has noted that they will have to again get used to the government’s rule of law and get integrated with the rest of the country and therefore the need for a collective rehabilitation process.

The Wanni IDPs, most of who are in camps in Vavuniya cannot be considered a homogenous population. They come from a number of areas in the vast Wanni region spanning from areas in the Mannar district to Vellamullivaikkal in the Mullaitivu coast. Although most of the displaced persons were forcibly taken with them by the LTTE there was a certain section of the population who remained loyal to the LTTE as well. The LTTE had also given arms training to most of the civilians whom they called the civilian militia that was used when they were running out of options. Apart from that, a majority of the families at the very end of Mullaitivu were LTTE ‘Mahaveer’ families. These were families that had hardcore members in the LTTE or families with members who had died for the LTTE cause.

Also most of the persons who remained with the LTTE in the last sliver of land in Mullaitivu to the last day were those who were part of the extensive administrative and civilian establishment created by the LTTE in the areas under its control during the last few years. Considering these factors, it is no doubt that the government will have to carry out an extensive screening process. However the faster it could be finished and the families resettled would ensure how quick the country could bounce back from the scourge of terrorism that stifled the nation for decades.

In this scenario the government will have to weigh the humanitarian issues as well as security considerations in detail and expedite the resettlement process taking the necessary measures to to prevent the LTTE from raising it ugly head.

~ ~ Kesara Abeywardena


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