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Govt. promises ‘province of opportunity’ in North

*Prepares resettlement plan as army sets up new safe zone on M’tivu coast

With major ground battles on the eastern flank in the final stages the government yesterday expressed confidence that re-settlement of civilians in the war ravaged areas could start as early next month.

Senior presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa said 20 per cent of the displaced would be moved back to their villages before end of April. In an interview with The Island, the MP said that the government had launched "a cohesive four-stage plan" to restore normalcy in the Northern Province.

It would be a province of opportunity as President Mahinda Rajapaksa desired, he said. The international community could back the government’s efforts, he said, adding that India has already announced her readiness to take part in a major re-building programme. Restoration of normalcy in the newly liberated Vanni would automatically benefit Jaffna peninsula and the Eastern Province, he said.

He discussed resettlement plans as the army declared a fresh safe zone for civilians within the 140 square kilometre area held by the LTTE along the north-eastern coast. Reiterating the government’s commitment to rescue

the civilians trapped in the war zone, he said that the armed forces would play a critical role in the overall strategy to rehabilitate areas devastated by three decades of conflict.

Responding to our queries, he said that 80 per cent of the displaced families could re-settle in their villages as early as December, 2009. The northern relocation plan would be essentially similar to the Eastern Province re-settlement plan, he said. Almost 97 per cent of the displaced had been resettled in the Eastern Province despite severe constraints, he said. "Some INGOs criticised our efforts. But gradually they recognised and even respected our strategy," he said, adding that the restoration of normalcy in the Northern Province would be one of the priorities this year. In fact nothing could be as important as sending them back to their villages and help them re-build their lives, he said.

Commending the army for a massive effort to clear the Eastern Province of a range of explosives, he said that once the army liberated the entire Vanni region troops would be available for what he called a civilian de-mining operation. He acknowledged the mine clearing operations carried out by various foreign agencies in the northern and eastern provinces over the past several years. "We really appreciate their role," he said. He expressed confidence that they would contribute to mine clearing operations in the north.

The National List MP said that restoration of electricity and roads in the liberated region would be of pivotal importance. The restoration of the Mannar-Pooneryn A 32 coastal road would be undertaken in keeping with a cohesive strategy to bring normalcy to the war ravaged province, he said. According to him Mankulam, a key town on the A9 road would be given electricity shortly.

He said that large scale resettlement programmes carried out in Muttur and Vakarai areas would give the ruling coalition the strength to meet the new challenge. "We’ll first tackle Mannar and then Vavuniya. Re-settlement will take place both east and west of the A9," he said.

He said that their first task would be to receive civilians reaching government lines, provide them with adequate relief before settling them at government sites temporarily. From there they would be moved to four large settlements run by the government, the MP said, adding that once the army cleared areas of mines re-settlement would begin. As part of existing security measures, all people arriving in government-held areas would be registered and photographed, he said, adding that the screening process would be very much similar to the operation carried out in the Eastern Province.

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