Sri Lanka Unveils 180-day Plan to Rehabilitate Tamil Civilians

Sri Lanka on Thursday unveiled rehabilitation plans for nearly 2.75 lakh refugees displaced during President Mahinda Rajapakse government’s “decisive war” against Tiger rebels, launched in January this year.

The announcement came after Rajapakse met visiting Indian envoys – National Security Advisor MK Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, a day after Sri Lanka declared an and to the two and a half decade war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Tigers were a fierce fighting force often termed as the deadly outfit with capacities to strike anywhere in the world, fighting for Eelam (an autonomous Tamil state), the rebels operated out of the administrative capital Kilinochchi, which they snatched from under government control.

Running a parallel government, Tiger rebels were often hounded by accusations of drafting child soldiers and using Tamil civilians as human shields.

During the “decisive war” government troops rescued some 2.75 lakh civilians,who the United Nations says were being used as cover by the rebels.

“The Government of Sri Lanka indicated that it was their intention to dismantle the relief camps at the earliest and outlined a 180-day plan to resettle the bulk of (refugees) to their original places of habitation,” read a joint statement issued Thursday.

The 180-day plan, coming under mounting international pressure to uphold the civil rights of the Tamil people in the island nation, rebuts Tiger claims that suggested that  the government planned to indefinitely hold the ethnic minority Tamils in “concentration camps”.

The government says that the Tamils need to be put up in camps till the government can sanitise the camps of any infiltrating Tiger elements, the United Nations says the camps meet international standards aside from curbs on movement.

According to the statement, New Delhi has committed the provision of assistance for demining, development of civil infrastructure and reconstruction of houses destroyed during the war.

Colombo says it will soon to undertake steps to devolve political power to Tamils in accordance with the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, which India brokered after the bloody civil war erupted in 1983.

“The government of Sri Lanka also intends to begin a broader dialogue with all parties including Tamil parties in the new circumstances, for further enhancement of political arrangements to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation,” said the statement.

Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils, with close family and cultural ties with the Tamil people in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, have long alleged social, political, economic persecution at the hands of the majority Sinhalese, which the Rajapakse administration represents.

On Tuesday, while addressing the parliament Rajapakse had ruled out an ‘imported solution to resolve the issue and said that the crisis would be resolved on the basis of an indigenous strategy acceptable to all sections of the Lankan people.

Meanwhile, aid agencies including the Red Cross and the United Nations have been seeking unrestricted access to rehabilitation camps being run by the government, a move that Colombo has repeatedly fought off since hostilities stated mid-January with both sides accusing the other of serious rights offences.

Claims on either side of the war remained largely unconfirmed as the Rajapakse administration banned independent journalists from entering the battle-zone.

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