Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Civil Administration and Development are Priorities in the East

by National Peace Council, August 14, 2007

"The government has a small window - which may already be closed - to win over the people of Jaffna." he said. "If the government does not make Jaffna a showcase in the eyes of the whole Tamil population, then it is a useless acquisition of real estate." - Steve Mann, US Director for South Asia, Harvard U. conference, November, 1997 (quote courtesy TamilNet)

National Peace Council
of Sri Lanka
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Colombo 6
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Internet:  www.peace-srilanka.org


14.08.07

Media Release

CIVIL ADMINISTRATION AND DEVELOPMENT ARE PRIORITIES IN THE EAST

The recent retaking of control of areas of the east by the Sri Lankan security forces presents a challenging new context for development and humanitarian work in the east. The direct observations made by journalists from the national media and members of the National Peace Council after a five day visit to the east revealed that instead of security and democracy, and the liberation of the east as described by the government, there is a continuing high level of insecurity, little effective civil administration and no evidence at all of economic development.

We did not encounter a population that felt itself liberated and empowered by the outcome of the recent military operations. Instead we saw and heard accounts of loss of livelihood, prolonged displacement, looted homes, fear of assassinations and abductions, and the humiliating treatment of people. Our observations belie the claim made on political platforms that normalcy and reconstruction are, and will soon be, the features of the liberated east, and that provincial elections can soon be held to consolidate democracy and good governance in the region.

The situation on the ground that we observed is one of high militarization in which the focus is on security concerns, with the military assuming responsibility for key activities normally the responsibility of civil administration and accompanied by the imposition of strict controls on access and freedom of movement. Roads are blocked or barricaded in several locations making people have to detour two kilometers instead of travel 50 metres in Eravur, and people have to walk an extra kilometer a day in Kommathurai.

The free movement of armed paramilitaries in close vicinity to the government forces serves to undermine the civil authorities and the police. Child recruitment by the Karuna group continues to be a major problem with UNICEF reporting 180 unresolved cases in the Batticaloa district alone. The situation is further complicated by the TMVP (Karuna group) that has opened offices in many communities and they all appear to be heavily guarded by armed paramilitary cadres. TMVP signs and graffiti with a pre-electoral tone are appearing everywhere. The proliferation of armed paramilitaries over these areas does not bode well for the integrity of expected local elections and the opportunity for people to make their choice of party and candidate freely.

Over ten thousand people have been displaced from newly captured areas that have been declared as High Security Zones by the government, and it is unlikely that these people can go back to their homes. The inability of the government to effectively cope with the situation of internal displacement can be seen by the fact that in the east there still continue to be those displaced by the tsunami from nearly three years ago. There is competition for land, and inter ethnic rivalries are simmering and could lead to violence, as witnessed recently in the tensions between Muslims resettled in Arafa Nagar and the security forces.

The fishermen of Muttur complained that after the liberation of the east the restrictions on their fishing had increased and they were no longer permitted to use their mechanized boats, but had to use canoes for shallow sea fishing alone. The denial of livelihood is not limited to these fisher folk. In Paddipalai a rice mill for the employment of women, mainly widows, a technical training centre to improve livelihood skills and a teacher training institute funded by an international donor agency have all been taken over by the Police. These actions have been justified ostensibly on the grounds of national security and to serve the community.  The National Peace Council calls on the government to ensure that these and other similar facilities be returned to their rightful owners expeditiously so that civilians could begin to rebuild their lives and regain their dignity.

Sign boards in Sinhala only at Vakarai, and Sinhala and English in the Police Station at Chenkaladi are a cause of alienation for the people of the area who are Tamil-speaking. The number of officers in any police station who are able to speak Tamil is minimal. These are but a few examples that reveal that continuing to place civil administration in the hands of the military and appointed officials from Colombo fails to address the problems of the people. If there is to be a genuine improvement in the lives of the people, there needs to be a greater measure of trust between the centre and periphery, and respect for the principle of subsidiarity, in which power and adequate economic resources are devolved to the lowest level possible.

In order to be meaningful to the people, the liberation of the east needs to include justice and accountability, restitution of lost assets, and above all, restoring faith in the Tamil speaking peoples in the mechanisms of civil administration. This would also include the disarming of paramilitary groups as called for by the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes during his recent visit to Sri Lanka. The National Peace Council believes that these are the priority concerns of the people rather than artificially pressing ahead with plans for an election in the East, as the conditions for free and fair elections and in particular violence-free conditions are not present in most of the area at present.


Executive Director
On behalf of Governing Council