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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2702

No fear of Tigers in the east but the people’s future and livelihood questionable – Bishop Swampillai

Colombo, 30 August, (Asiantribune.com): Rt. Rev. Dr. Kingsley Swampillai, the Bishop of Batticaloa- Trincomalee Diocese, told the Asian Tribune that elections will be free and fair in the east only if the armed groups are disarmed.

Going through the turn of events that cleared the east of the Tamil Tigers he said: Rt. Rev. Dr. Kingsley Swampillai : "I appeal that all those armed groups in the East must be disarmed and peace in the East should become meaningful.  In that right climate only it is possible to hold a free and fair election." Rt. Rev. Dr. Kingsley Swampillai : "I appeal that all those armed groups in the East must be disarmed and peace in the East should become meaningful. In that right climate only it is possible to hold a free and fair election."

The immediate requirement in the East after the so called liberation from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the Sri Lanka Government is resettling the displaced people from the war torn areas in a systematic manner.

The determination of the Army to clear the Eastern Province started from Trincomalee – from Mavilaru . There was also the Sampur issue. That was a threat to the Sri Lanka Navy because of the LTTE’s presence and their military installations which threaten the Sri Lanka Navy’s movements.

Therefore, the Sri Lanka Government has to eliminate the LTTE from Muttur and embark on an anti-LTTE war. Then in the process a lot of people from the villages – in fact almost all -- from the villages were forced to flee. There was a mass exodus, and they all came to Vakarai as refugees which are near river Verugal, a tributary of the Mahaveli Ganga.

Vakarai was full of refugees at one point of time. Sri Lankan forces fired artillery shells and began aerial bombing. This affected the displaced people from Muthur as well as local people of Vakarai who were all living below the poverty level. Aerial bombings and artillery and motar fires have destroyed one or two schools, hospitals and the many homes of civilians. Also some innocent civilians too were killed.

Though LTTE cadres retaliated, aerial bombing did the maximum damages in Vakarai and people began to flee to the Batticaloa town areas. We almost had 125, 000 refugees at one stage and Batticalao turned into a Refugee town.

In Batticaloa the governmental administration was in place, Government agents and his deputies, some NGOs and the people extended help to those internally displaced persons (IDPs). In fact the Batticaloa public received the refugees with sympathy.

Subsequently Sri Lanka Army began to resettle the IDPs after the capture of Vakarai. Sri Lanka Army thought it fit to resettle them in Muttur and Vakarai. The IDPs were issued by the Sri Lanka Army with special identification cards to distinguish them from the LTTE cadres. This card entitled them to receive relief and rehabilitation when they go back.

In the meantime, Sri Lanka Army launched their operation in the western side of the Batticaloa region – the Thoppigala. The Western part which was located in the West of the Batticaloa lagoon was at that time under the control of the LTTE.

Thoppigala came under attack by the Sri Lanka Army and the attack went on for a few months. The Army was involved in a strategic attack and the civilians began to flee the area with their belongings and with their livestock. The majority of those people were poor farmers.

The Government Agent of Batticaloa, and his deputies including the Grama Servaka officers and the people of Batticaloa jointly contributed and helped the IDPs. It was unfortunate that many of those IDPs disposed their cattle for paltry sums to overcome their cash crunches.

A word of thanks is due even to the Muslims in the district who collected funds and helped the IDPs.

By mid July, Sri Lanka Government declared that Thoppigala was won and held a big national celebrations over the capture of the Eastern Province. That victory was exaggerated. This victory is neither going to be the first nor the last, speaking from the knowledge of the events.

Now the Sri Lanka Army has started resettling the people who came from the Western part in the last batch. Army has not resettled them fully because a large swathe of land is said to be mined and another section of the people from Sampur about 40,000 people are still in the refugee camps and they are forbidden to go back to their lands located in Sampur.

The Government has also issued a special gazette notification that proclaimed that all those lands in Sampur, Chenaiyoor, and neighboring villages have been acquired by the Government for the high security zone. As a result almost 8106 families have lost their lands and are languishing between the devil and deep sea, not knowing where to go.

There are some organizations that have filed actions against the Government in the Supreme Court. And some of those suits have been already dismissed and some are still under the courts’ consideration.

After the resettlement, the conditions are favorable to the general public as the fear of the LTTE militants and war are now no more. They are happy that they are back in their own lands, but their livelihood and future are questionable issues.

The Sri Lanka Army has taken over the resettlement of the IDPs and NGOs are not allowed to these resettled regions. However the NGOs are allowed with permission by the Government Agents to visit to the resettled areas.

It is unfortunate that there are armed groups present within the resettles areas. And these armed groups are instilling fears in the minds of those resettled people and disturb them.

In the meantime, we are trying to encourage more and more NGOs to go to these resettled areas as the needs of the resettled people are countless and they are now forced to start all over their lives from the scratch, and it is a new life for them.

The government of Sri Lanka is coming out with lot of fanfare and publicity that they are going to rebuild the East through the Naganahira Udawa programme. This programme promises to complete major developments within 180 days, that is before the end of December 2007.

We are hoping and pray that these promises become a reality.

I have already told the Sri Lanka Government when participating in the discussions with the Government Ministers whenever they came to Batticaloa, that the so called developments programs cannot be considered as priorities until unless hundred thousands of people who have been displaced in the process of the war are resettled. They should be given shelter, infrastructure required must be in place, houses are built, their livelihood restored, they resume their normal life, their children resume their normal lives and education for which the destroyed schools have to be repaired and reconstructed and roads, transports have to be restored and the water supply, hospitals and services all these have to be reactivated.

This has to be the first priority and not the development. When I meet the President of Sri Lanka I will bring these facts to his notice.

For us, the victory over the war is not the final solution. But what we need is that the Sri Lanka Government must put its fingers in the heart of the problem – which is the political aspirations of our people, so that they may live in peace with justice and equality.

Furthermore, now is not the right time to hold the local governments and the Provincial Council elections in the East as long as the armed groups are moving round the roads in the East though LTTE is no more there.

Holding elections in the East is going to create chaos and destruction and would cause bloodshed and killing of people and would disrupt the free and fair elections. At present if an election is held then the group that holds arms will win the elections and then there is no democracy and rule of law in the country.

I appeal that all those armed groups in the East must be disarmed and peace in the East should become meaningful. In that right climate only it is possible to hold a free and fair election.

- Asian Tribune -

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