‘Access’ to IDP camps, second to country’s security

Sri Lanka’s victories, both in the battlefield against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and in Geneva, against a Resolution at the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC), when some countries were calling for investigations into alleged war crimes, appears to have ruffled more than a few feathers.

Now, we hear of requests-again, mostly from local and international non-governmental organisations as well as some western governments -for unrestricted access to the camps housing Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
We also have the main Opposition party in the country, the United National Party (UNP), demanding that the Emergency and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) be repealed, apparently, in response to government claims that terrorism has been eradicated from the nation.

Undoubtedly, Sri Lanka is concerned about the circumstances which the IDPs are faced with. There are reports that conditions are not ideal and that, there are many shortcomings in the facilities provided in the camps housing these victims of the LTTE. This is purely a reason owing to the multitude that inhabit the camps.

We also know that, these shortcomings have been readily acknowledged by the government, which has called for national and international assistance to improve conditions in these camps.

We do know that, the basic needs of the IDPs - food, shelter and sanitation - are being provided and that, no one is dying of starvation or due to lack of healthcare facilities. It is no easy task to provide all the needs of 250,000 people, who have been uprooted from their homes within a matter of weeks, and it does appear as if rehabilitation efforts are under way and progressing at breakneck pace.

What those who call for ‘unrestricted access’ to the camps fail to recognise - or do not wish to concede - is that, there is another aspect to allowing such freedom of movement: vital and significant security considerations.

It is no secret that, several top LTTE leaders have been located within the camps for IDPs and even Velupillai Prabhakaran’s parents were discovered there. Most of these leaders who fled the military offensive, disguised themselves as civilians, and did not opt to turn themselves in these camps - they were only detected by Military Intelligence.
These are persons with very dangerous potential. If they are allowed to go free, they could be future leaders of Velupillai Prabhakaran’s terror outfit, which held this country to ransom for the past 30 years.

Also, these are persons who possess vital intelligence regarding the LTTE’s terror network in Colombo and elsewhere in the country. To cite just one example, we now know, from information provided by surrendered Tiger cadres, that a Senior Army Officer had links with the Tigers.

So, should we say ‘open sesame’ to all these international busybodies at our doorstep, allow them - and the IDPs - the freedom to roam as they please, especially, when already, there are reports that, some NGOs have been instrumental in ‘smuggling’ Tiger cadres out of the camps?

Clearly, any talk of ‘unrestricted access’ to the IDP camps must be subject to and secondary to security considerations. Not to do so - and thereby, lose vital intelligence that could strengthen national security, after a hard fought 30-year war against terrorism - would not be just naive, it would be downright stupid.

We all wish for the IDPs to be re-settled, not only with the best possible facilities, but with honour and dignity. They have waited 30 years to be liberated from the clutches of terror.
Unfortunately though, those who now clamour for ‘unrestricted access’ to them, don’t appear to have the patience to wait for even 30 days, before proper security measures are put in place, so that, there will be more freedom of movement for the IDPs.
Or, is it just that they don’t want to wait?

Nation without accountability

Have we Sri Lankans lost the concepts of accountability and responsibility in our day to day activities?
We pose the question because many of the newspaper headlines over the past week suggest that, we as a nation, appear quite ready to pass the buck, and no one appears to be accountable for his or her actions, resulting in many tragedies or irregularities.
This week alone, we heard of how part of the southern expressway collapsed, killing an innocent youth. We also heard of how the Dengue epidemic is raging throughout the country, with the Ministry of Health blaming everyone, but themselves, for the 90 deaths that have occurred so far. Then, we were also informed that the infamous ‘hedging’ deal is being tried again before the Supreme Court.

Each of these events highlight the fact that, Public Officers are seldom, if ever, held responsible for what they do, and rarely, have to face the consequences for their acts of commission or omission.

This is also a reason why public interest litigation reached a peak over the past few years, with officials often earning strong condemnation from the Courts of Law. But should we always await litigation, before mending our ways?
This country now has a new sense of pride, after defeating terrorism. That alone, propels it to the threshold of greatness, if only each and every one of us decides to be more responsible in what we do, and how we do it. There cannot be a more opportune time than now, to make that change.