|Materially support IDPs cause,
Sri Lanka’s battle to crush
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) may be
over, but the diplomatic war it had to wage
concurrently, to appease the international
community, rages on. In fact, this conflict appears
to have gathered momentum in the last few months,
with no signs of a ceasefire yet.
The latest furore is over comments made by United
States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the
United Nations Security Council. Clinton said that
“rape had been used as a weapon of war in the
Balkans, Burma, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, and that,
in too many countries and in too many cases, the
perpetrators of this violence were not punished, and
so this impunity encouraged further attacks.”
Colombo was understandably furious over these
remarks, and the US Ambassador was summoned to the
Foreign Ministry to convey Sri Lanka’s concerns. And
in fact, US envoy Patricia Butenis went into damage
control mode saying that Clinton did not ‘implicate
This is of course a laughable and frivolous
defence. When Clinton says that perpetrators of rape
have not been punished in this country, surely, she
doesn’t mean that the lawless LTTE has not punished
its offending cadres! Therefore, the obvious
inference is for the Sri Lankan Army, and if Butenis
does not realise this, we can only say that she is
not fit for her job in Colombo.
Clinton’s latest remarks followed the news that
the irrepressible duo of French Foreign Minister
Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Secretary David
Miliband want to visit Sri Lanka again, obviously to
ratchet up the pressure on Colombo.
Judging by these events, it seems that certain
sections of the international community has turned
Sri Lanka bashing into an art form. And the most
potent weapons it uses for this purpose is the
‘plight’ of the internally displaced persons (IDPs)
in the North.
From time to time, we hear some governments, and
even the United Nations, express ‘concern’ about the
conditions in which the IDPs are being ‘held’,
followed by demands for their ‘speedy resettlement’.
The impression conveyed is that Sri Lanka is ‘not
doing enough’ to help their own citizens.
There are some issues here that merit scrutiny.
Firstly, it is no easy task to rehabilitate nearly
300,000 citizens who have become the government’s
responsibility overnight. As those countries that
had to deal with the tsunami disaster will readily
agree, it is a gigantic task, and an effort that
requires enormous amounts of planning,
infrastructure and resources. Certainly, it is not a
crisis that can be solved in a hurry.
The Sri Lankan government, no doubt realised
this, and set itself a deadline of six months from
the date resettlement began. It does now appear that
even this timeframe is a bit optimistic- and there
are several factors that contribute to the delays
that affect the rehabilitation programme.
Firstly, it is well known that the IDPs include
thousands of hardcore LTTE cadres. To provide
‘freedom of movement’ - as some are demanding - for
the IDPs, would essentially mean allowing these
cadres to roam free. That would not only pose a
severe threat to national security; it would also
provide these terrorists an opportunity to regroup.
That is not something any country would allow, after
winning a bitter and brutal terrorist war that raged
for nearly three decades.
Then, the infrastructure necessary for
rehabilitation includes vast areas of lands that
need to be de-mined. The government has spared no
pains to do this as quickly as possible, and has
imported state-of-the-art equipment for this
purpose. Nevertheless, it is a tedious process that
takes time. Those clamouring for instant
resettlement strangely, do not seem to comprehend
The other crucial factor affecting rehabilitation
efforts is the financial input that is required. Sri
Lanka is a small country in global economic terms,
and has, like every other nation, been hit by the
credit crunch. These are economically hard times,
and to fund a massive rehabilitation effort at this
juncture is hard on its purse strings.
Ironically, those countries and agencies which
clamour for instant resettlement of the IDPs, have
been rather thrifty in doling out the dollars for
this purpose. Other countries such as India, for
instance, which understand the ground realities of
resettlement and the constraints Colombo is faced
with, have been generous in their assistance.
Those nations and agencies which clamour for
‘freedom’ for the IDPs, must realise that the noise
they make is only a nuisance, which is, in fact,
hampering Sri Lanka’s efforts to rehabilitate its
less fortunate citizens as quickly as is practically
possible within the constraints of the task. To keep
on criticising this country serves no purpose, and
in fact, diverts Colombo’s attentions, because it
then has to deal with these controversies as well.
It would serve the IDPs better if the collective
efforts of the international community are
channelled towards providing men, material and money
for the rehabilitation effort- but then, is that
what the international community really wants to do?
Perhaps not, if one were to go by the words and
deeds of the Clintons and Milibands of the