ĎWell-wishers will fund northern developmentí
Government Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella
believes that the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) would require
an additional 50,000 soldiers to maintain law and
order and to secure the territory once under LTTE
an interview with The Sunday Leader, Rambukwella
claimed that some 16,000 sq kms were lost to the
government together with two thirds of the sea but
following the unification, it was of paramount
importance to safeguard the entire country that
could effectively curb the emergence of militancy in
the future. Excerpts:
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: How many IDPs camps are there in the demarcated
A: There are approximately 275,000 people
living in about eight zones.
Q: The IDPs are now seeking their family members.
What has the government done so far to reunite IDP
A: There was a sudden influx of people and
naturally there were teething problems.
is the top-most priority in post war Sri Lanka but
an extremely difficult task.
Yet, we must put the families together and fast. The
administration though disrupted, was intact in
certain areas. We seek the assistance of the
Government Agents and other officials to help
immediately locate the members of those rendered
Q: You spoke of the psychological aspect. What kind
of programmes are in place?
A: It is only basic counseling that is there
already but soon there will be special medical teams
attending to this vital need. We want the IDPs truly
healed, their scars gone.
Q: The JVP has proposed a truth and reconciliation
commission in a bid to psychologically heal the
people whose lives were devastated by the prolonged
war. Are you willing to consider this proposal?
A: There will be formal processes like that.
I donít know who copied whose plans but we certainly
had something like that in mind. People have to
heal. The final phase of settlement is not just
about physically settling them, not about homes and
lands but about a reunion of people.
Q: How feasible is the deadline of 180-days to
resettle the IDPs?
A: Countdowns and numbers donít work. I am
not a believer of deadlines. It is more important to
set oneself a task and work towards it and the 180
day plan is all about setting a target with the hope
of at least meeting part of that target by the
The idea is to have at least 50% of the IDPs
resettled at the end of that deadline.
deadline is also for planning, forecasting and
implementation. Things wonít happen overnight. We
have set ourselves an ambitious target and intend
meeting it at least partially.
Q: How does the government intend raising funds for
the rebuilding task given the extent of devastation?
The present estimates are said to be in the range of
Rs. 5 billion.
A: In my opinion, Rs. 5 billion is a paltry
amount for a task of this magnitude. I think funding
will come because the world views
today in a positive sense. We have crushed terror
and here is a golden opportunity to help develop
this nation. There will be enough well wishers who
want to contribute now that there is peace in this
Q: Do you currently possess a comprehensive
investment plan for the north?
A: It is currently being formulated I
believe. We want both local and foreign direct
investment and the north to experience a complete
resurgence like the proverbial phoenix bird. The
Japanese Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi repeatedly
said it was available as long as there was peace in
Q: So you think the government qualifies for the
A: Yes we do. It will be good if they can
direct the funds immediately. It is none other than
the head of the Co-Chairs who speaks of funds being
Q: Is there a fresh undertaking in this regard?
A: No. It is not an undertaking but an
understanding. For example, GSP Plus had certain
criteria. But they added new criteria that did not
exist when it came to
Why did they overlook the criteria? To my knowledge,
this is the first time that they added conditions
and they were related to the war situation. It was
very unfair to try and penalise
in this manner.
The IMF also has criteria and repayment schedules
and spending for scheduled tasks etc. We have
fulfilled all that but they deviated and tried to
add fresh criteria. US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton claimed it was not a good time to release
the money. But we think there is no better time than
this to play a decisive role in helping Sri Lanka to
rebuild itself. If not, they are acting mala fide.
The international community too must evolve and
mature. They should stop pushing agendas of their
choice down our throats.
Q: Whatís the budget for demining and what progress
has been achieved so far?
A: It is the most vital pre-requisite prior
to human resettlement. We are going ahead with
systematic demining. We also intend bringing in some
of the best teams to Sri Lanka. This must precede
Q: In the northern rebuilding exercise, what role
will the INGOs and the NGOs play?
A: To be candidly honest, we are going to be
extremely careful with the INGOs. We have burnt our
fingers before. We have bitter experiences with
some. Of course some others have made excellent
But we will be very selective and we will carefully
check the credentials, loyalties and performance
records when it comes to the INGOS.
Q: What are the dire needs of the IDPs at present?
A: The next hour. They still canít think long
or mid term. Thatís why they need counseling. Their
minds need strengthening. The next hour is about
finding their families. Only then will they start
thinking about shelter and other needs.
Q: Speaking of IDPs, there are also the Muslims
evicted from the north currently living in Puttalam
and those living in Tamil Nadu. What programmes are
there to reintegrate or repatriate them?
A: For those in Tamil Nadu, there will be
systematic reintegration through a repatriation
scheme which is currently underway. This was
launched sometime back and people even came in small
batches but stopped when the war intensified. But
now they can return home to a peaceful country.
The Puttalam IDPs and all others will be resettled
under a massive resettlement plan. It will take
time. It is an enormous task of resettling these
families who have been scattered and made to live
elsewhere due to LTTE tyranny.
Q: President Mahinda Rajapakse has gone on record
that the IDPs entered the safe zone carrying large
amounts of money, approximately Rs. 400 million, now
deposited in two state banks. If this is the case,
is it a matter of simple resettlement of the IDPs?
A: No. I donít think these people are
wealthy to the extent that you imply. If you divide
the Rs. 400 million among 300,000 people, it is not
that much of money is it? That was the answer I gave
the Bank of
Chairman also when I was told of the same.
Q: It was learned last week that IDPs are said to be
queuing up for chocolates and Coca Cola at the
camps. Could this be a reality?
A: Colombo people may queue up for that, not
Q: But it was none other than the President who made
such a statement at a meeting with the media heads
A: These are luxury items the people earlier
had no access to. They had no normal life. One third
of the country was denied so much when the LTTE
leadership enjoyed ultra luxuries. They denied basic
facilities to the people and crushed their political
identity. Why should people be made to live like
The free market theory had no application in the
north and pockets in the east controlled by the
megalomaniac Pirapaharan. But that phase is clearly
Q: There is a strong belief that there is gold
buried in the Jaffna soil and the delay in
permitting IDPs from resettling where possible is
due to this. Your comments?
A: All I can say is it is a farfetched idea.
And of course, good luck to the deminers!
Q: As the Government Defence Spokesperson, can you
explain how the troops would be best utilised now
that the war is over?
A: We need 50,000 more people to be enlisted.
One third of the land area and two third of the sea
were under LTTE control and now we have full control
over both aspects.
now have larger areas under control after years.
They need to be secured. We need to safeguard our
country in such a way that it would not happen
again. This requires more numbers.
Also we will maintain law and order with more
commitment. Some 16,000 sq km were demarcated and
offered to the LTTE together with two thirds of the
coast. We need to now administer the entire country
with more commitment. It is no mean task. And also
prevent the emergence of militancy in the future.
Q: Contradictory figures have emerged about those
killed in action during January-May when there was
an escalation in the war effort. What are the actual
A: In the aftermath of the military victory,
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse disclosed the
figures. Thatís the official figure. Nothing else.