Sri Lanka generous towards vanquished –outgoing IOM chief

Post-war rehabilitation:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The outgoing Chief of Mission of International Organization for Migration (IOM) Richard Danziger yesterday said that the ongoing re-integration of ex-LTTE personnel, including combatants into the society could be in jeopardy unless fresh funding was available for the project.

The continuation of the project after July would entirely depend on availability of additional funding, Danziger said in an exclusive interview with The Island at his office.

Danziger is taking over IOM mission in Kabul, where the government backed by foreign forces is still battling Taliban. 'I'm not a stranger there as I have had the opportunity to serve in Kabul during 1998-2001 and 2003-2004 periods," he said.

The outgoing IOM Chief said that of some 11,000 LTTE personnel, including members of combat units in GoSL custody at the conclusion of conflict, over 8,000 had been benefited through Information, Counseling and Referral Services (ICRS). Asked whether the IOM had access to ex-LTTE personnel, Danziger said that the Defence Ministry and the Army headquarters worked closely with those running the project. "In fact, we had access to over 11,000 personnel released after rehabilitation, though we were able to assist about 8, 000 so far," he said.

Among the beneficiaries of the ICRS project were members of the breakaway LTTE faction once headed by Karuna Amman, now a minister in the incumbent SLFP-led UPFA government. While appreciating the financial support extended by the US, Norway, the Netherlands, UK and Japan, Danziger said that several local state and private sector institutions backed the initiative.

The IOM chief estimated the number of persons still held in detention around 300, with another couple of hundreds of persons awaiting trial.

Danziger took over the Colombo mission in July 2010.

According to him, the project had begun even before the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. "IOM had access to LTTE cadres from the Eastern Province at an early stage due to military operations in the region ending earlier," Danziger said.

The eastern campaign ended in July 2007. The military launched the Vanni offensive in March 2007.

Commenting on the basic difference between the ongoing project here and projects undertaken by the IOM in other parts of the world, including the Philippines, Danziger said that unlike in Sri Lanka other ventures involved two parties to peace agreements. In spite of the GoSL being victorious in its war against the LTTE, it had been very generous towards the vanquished.

Asked whether he was able to achieve what he intended to during his mission here, Danziger said that the IOM was definitely able to improve the living standards of many, particularly of those who fought for the LTTE. Of those released following rehabilitation, the IOM had received complaints from about a dozen detained by security authorities, Danziger said, adding that some of them were released subsequently. The IOM had pursued their cases with relevant authorities, the official said, appreciating support extended by the government in fulfilling the mission's obligations.

Danziger said that the IOM launched projects in Sri Lanka way back in 2002 in the wake of the Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) coming into operation. "We launched a pilot project to rehabilitate 100 personnel each from the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE. Although the project with the SLA went on smoothly, the LTTE declined to cooperate," Danziger said. Responding to a query, the official said that the 2002 project and the ongoing assignment were different.

Asked whether the IOM had an opportunity to provide assistance to child soldiers, Danziger stressed that particular issue was handled by the UNICEF. The IOM project hadn't been geared to address the issue of child soldiers, he said, appreciating the role played by the Family rehabilitation Centre, Career Guidance and Youth Empowerment, Aide et Action and Search for Common Ground in the project.

Danziger asserted that some of those who had been rehabilitated at state-run institutions were sensitive to military presence, though one has to recognize the fact the government couldn't turn a blind eye to security considerations following a 30-year war.

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