The Government attaches the highest priority for the safety and welfare of the civilians, who are currently being held hostage by the LTTE in the narrow coastal strip in Mullaitivu. Thus, the military operations to free the entrapped civilians have been painstakingly slow, in order to avoid causing civilian casualties. Despite enormous logistical and other operational constraints, the Government has been sending an uninterrupted supply of food, medicine, fuel and other essential items for these civilians. Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama made these observations when the Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Prof. Walter Kaelin called on him at the Foreign Ministry today (03 March 2009). The UN official arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday on a four-day visit, during which he will hold discussions with government officials, as well as visit the IDP welfare villages and IDP transit points in Vavuniya.
The Foreign Minister briefed Prof. Kaelin on the steps taken by the Government to provide basic amenities at the IDP villages and transit points, which are receiving ever growing numbers of civilians who have risked their lives to flee from LTTE captivity. Already, over 62,000 civilians have braved the bullets of the LTTE and come to the Government controlled areas, and are being well cared for.
Acknowledging that there are still several shortcomings in the IDP camps, the Minister said that the Government is addressing these issues expeditiously. It has already arranged family reunions of several inmates as well as provided telecommunications facility to the camps.
Referring to his last visit to Sri Lanka in September 2008, Prof. Kaelin recalled his meeting with the Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa where he had commended the role of the Sri Lanka Army in its military operations, which had kept civilian casualties to a minimum. However, he expressed concern that as the Army approaches the no-fire zone, civilians could get caught up in the fighting. He said that the UN and the Government of Sri Lanka share a common interest in saving the lives of these innocent civilians, which is a major challenge.
Prof. Kaelin also said that it would be necessary to provide additional space to accommodate the anticipated influx of civilians fleeing from LTTE control to the Government areas. Admitting that a temporary congestion in the IDP camps in the initial phase would be inevitable, he called upon the Government to expand the facilities to the residents, so that they could stay in these facilities in reasonable comfort, until their return to their original places of habitation.
Foreign Minister Bogollagama stated that it is the policy of the Government to ensure the expeditious re-settlement of the IDPs in their own areas, but that de-mining and re-building of the damaged infrastructure and housing should be undertaken on a priority basis before this could be done. He appealed for assistance from the UN System and the wider international community in this endeavour. He also briefed Prof. Kaelin on the Government’s firm commitment in evolving a durable political solution to the present conflict, through an inclusive process which would be acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka. In this regard, the Minister also referred to the recent dialogue with the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora that the Government has launched on his initiative, which has been extremely useful in understanding the concerns and aspirations of the expatriate Tamils of Sri Lankan origin.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
03 April 2009