All Jaffna IDPs resettled, focus shifts to Vanni West
*Restrictions on public transport, lorries lifted
*Private buses etc await approval
*Security checks on A9 relaxed
With the closure of IDP facilities in the Jaffna Peninsula for the first time in over two decades, the entire focus is now on the Vanni, where the government is going all out to complete resettlement of the war displaced early next year.
But, at the moment, the focus is on the Vanni West with the Army and six INGOs carrying out mine clearing operations to facilitate resettlement of the war displaced as well as cultivation.
Northern Governor Major General G. A. Chandrasiri (retd) yesterday said that except for one IDP facility yet to be moved due to delay in sorting out officials documents, all other welfare camps had been closed and people resettled. In an interview with The Island, the former Army Chief of Staff said that 65,000 persons accommodated at Jaffna facilities for some time had returned to their villages recently.
Jaffna Security Forces Commander said that resettlement of the war displaced in the peninsula as well as the Jaffna Islands had been a tremendous achievement.
The total number of IDPs accommodated at government-run welfare camps remains at 135,000. Donor countries and UN agencies have provided funds for maintaining these camps.
Responding to our queries, he said that the government was in the process of dismantling makeshift IDP facilities as part of their overall efforts to restore normalcy in the Peninsula.
Chandrasiri has received instructions from Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to provide relief to the civilian community. In keeping with Defence Secretary’s directive, restrictions on the movement of public transport to and from the Jaffna Peninsula had been eased, Chandrasiri said. According to him, Omanthai, formerly the exit/entry point north of Vavuniya had been converted into a major check point where vehicles carrying goods would be checked. He said that the checkpoint at Medawachchiya, too, would remain though Omanthai would be the main point.
Chandrasiri said that the government had also invited Jaffna peninsula-based lorry owners to operate between the peninsula and the South. He said that they could carry goods to the South and bring in anything they want subject to routine checks like in any part of the country.
He said that people leaving the peninsula would no longer need to obtain security clearance before leaving for South. During the war, the military restricted civilian movement out of the Peninsula as well as from the Jaffna Island to thwart LTTE cadres using air and sea routes to reach the South. Although the previous UNP-led UNF government opened the A9 for private transport in keeping with the Norwegian-arranged Ceasefire Agreement, the LTTE refused to allow public transport northward from Omanthai.
Chandrasiri said that they were in the process of allowing private buses on the A9 and the day private vehicles would be permitted on the road was not far off.
He said that steps were being taken to gradually improve public transport within the area west of the A9.
The government is planning to link Jaffna with Thunnukai via Paranthan and connect Vavuniya also with Thunukkai via Mankulam. The government recently launched public transport services to Thunnukai and Pooneryn via Mallavi.
Chandrasiri said that tractors would be used for movement of goods. In keeping with their policy to assist all public servants working in the area, 200 bicycles had been given to them while action was being taken to provide bicycles to hospital workers at government hospitals in Adampan and Thirukethiswaram.
According to him, 7,000 housing units had to be built in the Manthai west area.
Chandrasiri last Wednesday (Nov 18) met a JAICA delegation in Vavuniya, where they discussed ways and means of assisting the IDPs. Chandrasiri said that he had thanked JAICA for making available tractors, trailers and other equipment worth Rs. 110 million to local government bodies in the area. This would be a great help, he said adding that more international assistance would flow due to Sri Lanka’s success in handling the IDP issue.