Hurling facts and figures at critics

The government has, for once, made a meaningful attempt to counter the flak it has come under from various quarters over the question of IDPs. Instead of hurling abuse at its enemies, it has thrown figures at them this time around. Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa told the press on Thursday that over 40,000 of 280,000 IDPs had already been resettled. Four months have barely elapsed since the dust settled on the battlefront and the resettlement of so many IDPs is no mean achievement. These are the facts and figures that the government must lay before the world to silence the closet Tigers shedding crocodile tears for the war displaced.

Minister Yapa has rightly said the government cannot adhere to deadlines set by vested interests in resettling IDPs. That task could not be accomplished, he has said, in the manner and at the speed prescribed by his former ministerial colleague and present Opposition bigwig Mangala Samaraweera, who is a vocal critic of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government. Yapa's comment may border on rhetoric but it reminds us of the aftermath of Operation Riviresa launched by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1995 to recapture Jaffna. Samaraweera was an ardent supporter of the lady who successfully banished the LTTE from what the outfit claimed to be the capital of its imaginary Eelam. The UNP sought to pooh-pooh her victory by claiming that troops had captured a ghost town. The fleeing LTTE had forcibly evicted the entire population by way of a human shield. But, with the passage of time, people began to return, first in fives and tens and later in their thousands. At that time a pugnacious Samaraweera defended the Kumaratunga government to the hilt and took on the UNP.

The situation in the Vanni is far more complex in terms of the sheer number of IDPs, threats posed by landmines, damage to infrastructure and hidden arms caches. Most of all, among the IDPs to be resettled are thousands of battle hardened LTTE killers.

Why the government has allowed itself to be put on the defensive over the IDP issue is baffling. It seems to be losing its propaganda war vis-à-vis the LTTE's well oiled disinformation machine, in spite of having won the war in style. The security aspects of resettlement are not adequately stressed at international fora. The world needs to be apprised of the threats that remaining terrorists are capable of posing not only to national security but also to civilians, unless they are weeded out at this stage. Those killers have the potential to put paid to the country's victory over terrorism if they manage to escape. They know the terrain as well as the underground arms stockpiles. When the LTTE was about to be crushed, some foreign envoys sympathetic to the LTTE said it would go into the guerrilla mode after its defeat in conventional warfare.

What would be the situation if the government released all the IDPs as the first thing tomorrow morning? There would be utter chaos in the Vanni with people losing life and limb in mine blasts; they would also be without access to hospitals and schools. The only beneficiaries would be the LTTE and its backers donning various masks. In such an eventuality, the surviving LTTE cadres would try to trigger a backlash by bringing civilians and the armed forces on a collision course through terror attacks.

It is not being argued that the LTTE could sustain a guerrilla war without a base either here or in India. But, the desperate suicide cadres, blinded by rage, will try to avenge the killing of their leaders, given half a chance. Therefore, identifying those killers is of the same import as demining and restoring infrastructure if the North and the East are to remain peaceful. All critics of the IDP centres must not be tarred with the same brush but the fact remains that among them are certain elements hoping for anarchy in the Vanni once again. Their sinister attempts need to be defeated.

Resettlement should not be left to the government alone. It is also the responsibility of the critics of the government to help IDPs rebuild their lives. They can play a pivotal role in expediting resettlement, even though the government has denied them access to IDP centres. They could assist in reconstruction and demining by contributing funds for that noble cause. Fat INGOs and NGOs doing precious little for IDPs but making a lot of noise to attract foreign funds could help purchase a few demining machines––at least. Then only will they have a moral right to speak of IDPs.

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