26th October, 2003 Volume 10, Issue 15

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ISSUES

For whom is the peace dividend?

By Frederica Jansz

It is now nearly two years since Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE Leader, Velupillai Pirapaharan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to halt a bloody 19 year war that official figures estimate to have killed some 65,000 people since 1983. Having attempted to negotiate a political solution to the crisis the two conflicting parties reached a stalemate in April this year and since then the talks have remained frozen.

General Secretary, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and parliamentary group leader,  Tamil National Alliance, R. Sambandan, said Tamil parliamentarians last Wednesday (22), had a "very good and positive" meeting with the LTTE in Killinochchi. He asserted that the LTTE stated they will on October 31, hand over their counter proposals to the government's interim administration proposals and will "definitely fix fresh dates for the commencement of talks with the government."

LTTE Political Wing Chief, S. P. Tamilselvan has said he will meet with the media on November 1, soon after the LTTE's response to the government proposals are handed over.

Sambandan indicated that the proposal by the LTTE for an interim administration in the north and east, most of which is already under rebel control, is likely to include heavy demands for control over policing and financial matters.

The government has already proposed a power-sharing plan that gives the Tigers wide powers over rebuilding and resettlement of displaced people, but no control over policing and security.

Sambandan however pointed out that while the south has enjoyed the dividends of the ceasefire since February 2002, people living in the north and east have not yet been so lucky.

He maintained the armed forces have not yet fully realised that a ceasefire does not merely mean a stoppage in fighting.  "A ceasefire also means that the Tamil civilian population must return to normal life which means they must begin enjoying all the rights and privileges they are entitled to as citizens despite being Tamils, much of which they were deprived off during a situation of war." he said.

Sambandan asserted that the aspect of security on the part of the armed forces is being thoroughly overplayed and it is having a disastrous impact on the thinking of Tamil civilians.

Tamils left out

He said it is impossible to equate the dividends of the peace process enjoyed by those living in the south and west of the country to people living in the north and east. He asserted however that the Tamil people will be quite satisfied if they can return to their homes and recommence normal living, their occupations and socio-economic cultural activities without once again being "handicapped as a result of oppressive army presence or the army shutting them out of various areas on grounds of security."

"I am not saying the government should abandon security but I think it is being overplayed to the extent where Tamils are not the recipients of the dividends of the present peace," he said.

Sambandan noted that people from southern and western parts of the country are now holidaying freely in areas of the north and east which is very welcome - but he said what is unfortunate is that this same freedom is not enjoyed by the people living in the north east.

The quid pro quo of this situation is that despite the ceasefire the LTTE is still continuing to victimise both Tamil and Muslim civilians in the north and east subjecting them to extortion and abductions.

The Tigers according to statistics maintained by UN agencies continue to recruit children to their armed cadre despite a public display of releasing some child recruits to a UNICEF sponsored child rehabilitation programme in Killinochchi.  Muslims living in areas of the north and east continue to complain bitterly that the LTTE seriously harasses the Muslim community, extorting large sums of money and in some instances abducting Muslim civilians who refuse to bow to rebel rule.

While the country's flagging economy has received a boost in the south as a result of the peace process and tourism is booming, areas in the north and east remain largely undeveloped.

Slow pace

It is true both sides no longer have to contend with body bags being handed over to grieving families and the guns have fallen silent - but restructuring the shattered ruins of war ravaged areas is at a slow pace.

For people in the Wanni, an area largely held by the LTTE, reaping any rewards from the peace process is still a distant illusion. Other than the war itself having ceased, there is little or no dividends for civilians living inside the Wanni as they battle against overpowering odds to make ends meet.

Thousands of hectares of fertile farmland is yet fenced off as a result of land mines and unexploded ordnance making it impossible for this once agriculturally rich land to be fully productive.

The entire civil administration of the Killinochchi District is at a low key due to a massive shortage of resources such as personnel, office accommodation and inadequate transport facilities.  Most government offices in the Wanni area function out of either semi permanent or temporary buildings while some official's swelter in the scorching heat as they valiantly attempt to administer civil work in bullet riddled buildings devastated by heavy artillery.

The acute shortage of staff and support services is self-evident. For instance the Poonakary Divisional Secretary's office has only four clerks.  The Pachchilaipalli Divisional Secretariat is also working with only nine clerks. As a result they are unable to carry out routine work for the Triple 'R' project which was mooted by this government to carry out rehabilitation work and provide humanitarian assistance for civilians in the Wanni.

Poor health sector

According to a situation report issued by the government agent and district secretary, there are no transport facilities to even deliver drugs to institutions. There is a shortage of staff in all health categories while building facilities are not available to run the district hospital - Killinochchi - and the hospitals at Pachchilaipalli and Poonakary.

The main Killinochchi town does not yet have a hospital. The Killinochchi District Hospital was completely destroyed during the war and as a result functions 15 miles away at Akkarayankulam which is a small hamlet west of Killinochchi.

The offices of the deputy provincial director of health services  in Killinochchi also functions out of temporary shelters consisting of sheds constructed from aluminium sheets.

The M. O. H. offices of Killinochchi is temporarily functioning at Akkarayankulam while the M. O. H. office at Poonakary is also functioning temporarily at Jeyapuram. Some 30 primary health centers are functioning out of private buildings due to government health sector buildings having been almost completely destroyed and no renovation work being initiated since the ceasefire agreement.

Hundreds of students continue to study under cadjan sheds or bomb battered classrooms, still bearing the shell shocked scars of a two decade long war.

At Vadamaarachchi East a similar situation exists.  Huge craters in the ground are silent testimony to the area where once a family lived and called home. Now filled up with green contaminated water, these craters lie silent, evidence of a devastating two decade long war.  Few homes are being rebuilt as the maximum earnings of a government servant inside the Wanni is not more than Rs. 1,500. In fact, according to the Wanni District Secretariat only 3, 632 families earn this amount and are considered to be above the poverty line.

Thirunavakaran Rasanayagam, government agent for Wanni said this amount is barely enough for a family to survive for a period of 30 days.  He said out of a total population of 142,372 persons "the situation is desperate" as people have no employment opportunities and as such are living below poverty lines. He maintained that more than 24,532 families depend on dry rations issued via government food stamps.  Over 32,000 families inside the Wanni live below the poverty line, he said.

Agriculture

Farming in the area is at an all time low as 12,000 hectares of land cannot be cultivated  due to these lands not being cleared of mines and explosives. Out of a total 30,000 hectares of farmland, Rasanayagam asserted that only 18,000 hectares were cultivated last year.

Government buildings in the war battered north and east are yet to be reconstructed and many government servants are forced to work out of cadjan sheds and bombed out shelters.

Various rehabilitation organisations are working at odds with each other and even themselves.A senior officer of the North East Provincial Council who requested anonymity said that at official meetings many of these representatives do not have a clue how to coordinate funds and implement development work.

He said there has been "no dividends from this peace process for the civilians inside the Wanni - "nothing has happened over this last year - everything is merely pledges and nothing more," he said.  He added that monies provided to the North East Provincial Council are diverted to Batticaloa and Amparai. "Not a cent is allocated for the Wanni region," he claimed.

A similar mess

The mail service is in a similar mess. With no proper facilities the postal service in this area functions in an adhoc manner out of deplorable working conditions.  The building which once housed the sub post office at Paranthan is just a shell of its former self. Instead the post office, together with 31 employees functions out of an eight by 12 room at the cooperative store in Paranthan.

The Killinochchi post office is hardly any better.  Windowless and bullet-riddled this once impressive building is yet to receive a face-lift.  People's Alliance Spokesman, Dr. Sarath Amunugama said that in his view there is no development taking place in either the north or the south.

"Take all the major activities - they have all been stalled" he said, citing the Kukule hydro power project, the airport development project, the super highway project and the Colombo Kandy expressway to name a few  - "are all in limbo."

Amunugama said most of the hype about investment is just talk and nothing else. He said more money has been spent promoting investment than ensuring an influx of money to the country.  "With our present fuel and electricity costs, utterly inefficient bureaucracy, and problems obtaining land, just saying because we have opened up there will be a rush to invest is just a pipe dream," he asserted.

Amunugama asserted that India last week has more or less endorsed the PA position which is that the interim arrangement must be linked to a final settlement. "Upto this time the government has been dilly dallying on this subject." he said.

Amunugama added the position of the PA has now been vindicated and "we now feel there is a platform for discussion" he said, adding that the PA and SLFP are awaiting the LTTE's counter proposals to that submitted by the government for an interim administration.

Dr. Amunugama pointed out that India has also emphasised that the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka must not be compromised and that the democratic rights of all her citizens must be safeguarded at any cost.  He reiterated that the PA has been long maintaining this same stance and he can only hope that since India too has now endorsed this view it will serve as a springboard for a united effort between the PA, SLFP and UNP towards resolving the country's conflict.

President's decision on SLMM Head criticised

R. Sambandan was critical of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's decision to call for the removal of Head, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, Tryggve Tellefssen asserting that the SLMM was constituted on a joint decision arrived in the MOU signed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE Leader, Velupillai Pirapaharan in February 2002.

Sambandan reiterated that while he cannot comment on the reasons for Tellefssen's removal he can only say that it should have been done after discussing the matter with the government.

Kumaratunga took the decision to call for the removal of the SLMM Chief following a complaint by Navy Commander Daya Sandagiri that the SLMM had seriously compromised a naval operation to apprehend a possible LTTE ship by informing the rebels of the sighting.

The 60 meter long ship was spotted 225 miles east off Mullaitivu last week. The vavy following a ceasefire ruling informed the SLMM and took an international monitor on board a naval vessel.  The monitor however had reportedly using a satellite telephone contacted the LTTE in Killinochchi and asked if the Tigers were expecting a vessel.

The ship thereafter disappeared. It had first been sighted by fishermen who had alerted the navy.

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