Sri Lanka: Time to heal the wounds of conflict and war
By Raj Gonsalkorale
Sri Lankan Armed Forces have done what was unthinkable a few years ago. President Rajapaksa has done what none of his predecessors even dared to imagine was possible. The military battle with the LTTE is over. One has to pinch one self to believe this has happened.
Much will be written about this battle, and the bravery of the Sri Lankan Forces. They need to be written about and admired for their courage. Their Commanders led by the Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka need to be recognized and praised for their leadership, stead fastness and single minded determination to defeating Sri Lanka’s greatest enemy, the LTTE.
President Rajapaksa will speak to the Nation tomorrow. He deserves all the applause he will receive from his beloved countrymen for what he has done in giving them a fresh opportunity to seek a solution to this conflict without bloodshed. He needs to lead the way now in healing the wounds of conflict and war, and lead the people towards a permanent solution, so that we will not have another terrorist group making excuses to get to power through bullets, grenades, and suicide bombs, and ruin the lives and minds of men and women, and children, and consign them permanently to the dustbin. It is time now to celebrate, but to celebrate the opportunity we now have to heal the wounds, physical and mental, and not to celebrate to forget the wounds.
When all those civilians caught in the conflict are taken to IDP camps, we will have perhaps as much as 300,000 persons who may have lost a loved one, lost a limb, their homes and their livelihood, and who may have permanent mental scars against those who made them suffer. The Sinhalese would like to think these IDPs will blame the LTTE for their suffering, while some Tamils will blame the Sinhala dominated governments for their suffering.
Irrespective of what the IDPs think, they are all Sri Lankans who need to be looked after. They are human beings with feelings, the same as other human beings who live in other parts of Sri Lanka.
They all need to be looked after, fed, clothed and health requirements met. Children in camps must go to school and they should not miss any of the opportunities that children in other parts of the country have, and taken for granted. Women must feel safe and be safe at all times.
The challenge before the President and the government is huge. Rebuilding the shattered lives of these IDPs is going to be a far tougher battle than even the battle to defeating the LTTE. Foreign countries, especially the West, who have been so concerned about these civilians must help if their concerns have been genuine.
The President has already appointed a Task Force with a wide ranging agenda, to map out the restoration of the physical infrastructure of the war torn North. Perhaps he needs another Technical Task Force to concentrate entirely on rebuilding the minds of the affected people who have suffered so many traumas. He also needs to make sure that the gains made are not lost by one or two single incidents of misbehavior on the part of a few individuals from the Armed Forces. So far, the Armed Forces have behaved impeccably but one can never say how the odd person might behave when a sense of power gets to their heads.
Misbehavior by a few will be enough to wipe the slate clean of all hard fought and hard gained achievements of so many.
While the government’s stated goal is to usher in economic development in the North as they did in the East once it was liberated from the LTTE, that alone is not sufficient to win the hearts and minds of people caught in the conflict, and who have lost their livelihoods and their homes. They also need to feel a sense of security of the present and of the future. In terms of their sense of physical security, the sooner the government introduces third party involvement in running the IDP camps, the better. Initially, it would be a good idea to introduce bodies like ICRC to be more involved in running these camps alongside Sri Lankan officials, while the government provides security for the camps.
In terms of their sense of security concerning their future, they should start witnessing the actual resettlement of IDPs in their original homes. They should also be given opportunities to learn a new trade if they so wish during the time they are kept in the camps. Needless to say these cannot be done overnight and it will take many months before the governments own good intentions can be put to practice considering the herculean task before them. But, there should be some indication that this will happen so that the IDPs will have some hope for their future security.
Broken families have to be mended. Children separated from their parents have to be reunited. Children who have lost their parents have to be found foster parents or children’s orphanages. The list of things to do is endless. It needs the support of professionals who have experience in such rehabilitation work. The President must open doors for such people to come in as soon as that becomes possible.
Some Western countries and the Western media are looking for reasons or them to make a scapegoat of the Sri Lankan government. They will be watching with hawk eyed inquisitiveness for any slip on the part of the Sri Lankan authorities. For them, news revolves around failure, war and mayhem. Success stories are rarely news worthy.
What is important for the Sri Lankan government is not to worry about international opinion if such opinion is based on falsehoods and misinformation. What is important is negative international opinion based on fact. The Sri Lankan government must therefore be vigilant at all times to make sure they do not give fodder to those vultures who are waiting to tarnish the good name of the country. One can defend one self against untruths, but not against the truth, if untoward things do happen.
This is not a time to gloat. There is so much to be done. It is a time to take stock of what has happened over the years and repair the damages caused over so many years to the fabric of our society. It is time to make sure terrorism never raises its ugly head ever again. It is time we do what is right because it is right, not do things because we are pressured to do so.
Tomorrow, Sri Lankans will expect the President to commend the Armed Forces for their magnificent performance, and express the Nations gratitude to them for having defeated the once invincible, mighty LTTE. They deserve nothing less. However, The President must also be cognizant of the feelings of the vanquished considering that some Tamils supported the LTTE for fighting for a cause that was close to their hearts, although many of them may have despised the methods used by the LTTE, and would welcome their defeat. The President must speak to all Sri Lankans and he should have some comforting words for all Sri Lankans, and leave everyone with some hope that we can build a new Sri Lanka together if we could be focused more on the future rather than the past.
- Asian Tribune -