The government is planning to resettle as many internally displaced persons as possible in the area west of the A9 before tackling resettlement in the Vanni east. The army is of the opinion that all its efforts should be directed at clearing the western part of the Vanni in keeping with the original plan, though some have called for simultaneous resettlement of the displaced on both sides of the A9.
Northern Province Governor Major General (retd) G. A. Chandrasiri yesterday said that the army and five demining agencies had been engaged in mine clearing operations in the Yodawewa area.
In a brief interview with The Island, the former Jaffna Security Forces Commander said the recent deployment of ten mine clearing machines bought from Slovakia and Croatia would help them clear the area (approximately 7,000 acres) north of Yodawewa by the third week of October.
Responding to our queries, he said that the machines had cost the taxpayer Rs. 530 million. "We bought five machines each, from Slovakia and Croatia and all of them are deployed in the Yodawewa area," he said adding that the army had committed 400 de-miners for the ongoing clearing operation. The machines brought from Croatia on Saturday (September 12), too, had been already moved to the Vanni, he said. According to him, each machine, remotely controlled by one person could clear 2,200 square metres and could also operate in difficult terrain.
He appreciated the work carried out by de-miners belonging to five foreign funded agencies alongside the army.
He said that once they cleared 7,000 acres north of Yodawewa, they could work out a plan for further expansion of operations in the surrounding area.
Chandrasiri said that they were also in the process facilitating the return of civilians, the majority of them Muslims, to an area about 7,000 acres in size south of Yodawewa. He said that the bottom line was that by end of October approximately 14,000 acres would be ready to receive civilians, both south (South of the Vavuniya-Mannar main road) and north of Yodawewa. He said that the returning Muslims had been chased out of the area about 10 years ago.
He said that the support given by Basil Rajapaksa, MP as the head of the Task Force responsible for the resettlement and rehabilitation in the north had made their task easier.
Contrary to criticism, the government had released a sizeable number of people from welfare camps situated in the Jaffna peninsula and also Vavuniya region. He said that about 5,000 had been released from camps in the peninsula leaving about 5,000 at government-run camps. He said that action would be taken to explore ways and means of releasing the rest of the civilians as quickly as possible.
Commenting on welfare camps in the Vavuniya region, he said that the total number if persons held at camps would come down to about 237,000 by end of this week once they released about 10,000 persons as directed by the government. According to him, there had been 288,938 persons at welfare camps as at May 22, 2009. He said that by September 3, due to the resettlement programme this figure came down to 247,804 and a directive issued last Friday (September 11) to release 9920 would bring this down further. He expressed confidence that 9920 persons could be sent back to their villages within this week.
The former Army Chief of Staff said that clearing of Vanni east, particularly Puthukudirippu and its surrounding areas would not be an easy task due to heavy mining by the LTTE. He said that those who point out shortcomings and criticise government efforts in a post-LTTE era had turned a blind eye to extremely difficult conditions the de-miners, including those employed by foreign agencies are confronted with.