Ending of war not the end of the conflict,
say Tamil opinion leaders
A collective of Tamil opinion leaders called The Group of Concerned Tamil Citizens of Sri Lanka (GCTCSL) yesterday said that the ending of the war would not result in the end of the conflict unless and until there was a political settlement acceptable to the people in the North East.

"A just and credible offer of a political package acceptable to the population of the North and East is urgently needed and central to the task of nation building," the GCTCSLsaid in a statement to the media.

The statement was signed by Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Seelan Kadirgamar, Prof. Karthigesu Sivathamby, S. Sivathasan, L.N.Balaretnaraja, S.Chinniah, S. Malavarayar, Anita Nesiah, V.Ponnambalam, Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuthu, S. Sumathy, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran and R.Visagaperumal.

Full text of the statement: "We are a group of Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka, deeply troubled by the unprecedented suffering that the war has brought upon the entire Tamil population of the North and East as well as many others including Muslims and Sinhalese. The nature and scale of the recent violence has exceeded that experienced in recent decades in our once peaceful island.

The LTTE and the armed services of the State have suffered severe losses. However, the majority of the victims – the dead, the seriously injured and the traumatized – are unarmed Tamil civilians. We urge adversaries in this war to stop causing further harm to civilians by immediately terminating the armed conflict and to take urgent and effective steps to address the physical and psychological damage already inflicted.

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 population ( the UN estimate is 50,000; that of Mr. V. Anandasangaree is over 100,000 – vide Sunday Island of May 3 2009) caught up in the conflict zone are among those worst affected and most at risk of further injury. "These people are not only in danger from the shelling and the shooting, but they are suffering extensively due to shortages of medical supplies, food and water" (Sir John Holmes, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator as quoted in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Situation Report #4 of April 30 2009) The two sides must urgently find a way to end the war with, if necessary, the help of a mutually acceptable third party. Humanitarian aid including food, water, medical services and shelter must reach these people without further delay. The ICRC and UN humanitarian agencies need to have free access to this area and to these people to assist and monitor this process.

Apart from these 50,000 – 100,000 trapped in the conflict zone as on April 30 2009, the OCHA report records that 172,291 others had crossed over to the government controlled areas. Of these, 1,895 injured and care givers were admitted to hospitals and the others are detained in camps in Vavuniya (153,787), Mannar (52), Jaffna (11,089) and Trincomalee (5468). Very large numbers of other Internally Displaced Persons -IDPs) temporarily settled earlier are also restricted from leaving the areas in which they are located. Very many IDPs have been repeatedly displaced, have a long history of lack of food, water, medical services and shelter, and yet live under sub-standard conditions and with continuing shortages. Many of them may need to move out immediately to institutions or homes of friends or relatives to gain access to urgently needed medical or psychological therapy. Apart from lack of physical wants, their detention and lack of support from and free communication with friends, families and care givers outside is a cause of major concern to them as to their loved ones.

Another major concern is the separation of family members and the lack of access to information on this matter. If a family member is dead, or in hospital with injuries, or in another camp, or in custody as an LTTE suspect, or missing, the rest of the family have a right to whatever information can be gathered. Every family needs to be kept informed and to be re-united as quickly as possible.

While a large number of the elderly have been offered release from the camps, many of them are unable to leave because others of the family are yet in detention. The continued detention of pregnant women, unaccompanied children, the badly wounded and the physically and mentally handicapped is unacceptable.

Though the state has repeatedly proclaimed the "liberation" of civilians detained by the LTTE as civilian shields in the military conflict, virtually all those "liberated" continue to be detained- this time by the state. It is possible that those allegedly liberated may include some LTTE cadres. The state has legitimate security concerns and it may wish to register and screen IDPs released from LTTE control with the view to identifying and pursuing action against any LTTE cadres among the civilians under due process of law. But the registration and screening should be done in a transparent manner in the presence of ICRC and UNHCR. Moreover, the screening process should be speedy so as to minimize heaping further misery on the long suffering civilian IDPs. The process should take a few days or weeks at most, not several months. As soon as the screening is over those against whom no evidence is available, presumably the over whelming majority of the IDPs, should be promptly released from detention. We are happy to note the assurance given by the state that over 80% of those released from LTTE custody will be able to go back to where they were displaced from by the end of year 2009. Those who find accommodation in homes elsewhere will also need to be provided with rations, including any prescribed medications, for a period pending rehabilitation.

The recent return of 411 IDPs to Saveriyarpuram in Musali Division, Mannar district (reported in OCHR situation report # 4 of April 30 2009) and the impending return of some 3000 others to 15 villages in Musali Division over the coming weeks, though two years overdue, are most welcome. It is hoped that IDPs of other areas will also be assisted to return to the lands they vacated to re-build their homes and livelihoods. It is possible that some of these areas may be currently uninhabitable on account of war ravage including land mining. The resettlement process would take time to complete but could begin very early, with de-mining given the highest priority. The Members of Parliament and other political leaders of the region as well as the IDPs themselves need to participate in the planning and reconstruction of the areas destroyed and in the resettlement process.

The manner in which the final phase of the war is worked out and the terms on which it is brought to a close are critical for the future of ethnic relations in Sri Lanka. The ending of the war will not result in the end of the conflict unless and until there is a political settlement acceptable to the people in the North East. There has been much ethnic discrimination for 6 decades, many years of civil war and many instances of ethnic cleansing Several political initiatives including the Pact of 1957 signed by Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, the constitutional proposals of years 1995 and 2000 introduced by President Chandrika Bandaranaike, the negotiations initiated by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe leading to the Oslo Declaration of 2002 and the yet ongoing APRC process introduced by President Mahinda Rajapaksa have not been adequately pursued. The current war has greatly increased the sense of alienation built up over the decades among the Tamil population. A just and credible offer of a political package acceptable to the population of the North and East is urgently needed and central to the task of nation building."

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