Sri Lankan military urged to withdraw from former war zones | Connect Asia

Sri Lankan military urged to withdraw from former war zones

Sri Lankan military urged to withdraw from former war zones

Updated 25 February 2013, 16:36 AEDT

A major humanitarian organisation in Sri Lanka says the demilitarisation of former war zones is vital for displaced civilians who return.

The Sri Lankan military has defended its ongoing presence in the Tamil majority north and east, pointing to 'security sensitive areas'.

A 2011 report by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommended the demilitarisation of former war zones to allow civilian administration.

Caritas, the international aid and development organisation of the Catholic Church, agrees with the LLRC.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Father George Sigamoney, national director, Caritas Sri Lanka

SIGAMONEY: I will say that people almost have left the camps and they have gone back, to some extent, to their original places. So still, it's a kind of process.

LAM: So the camps have been emptied but the displaced have not necessarily returned to their homelands?

SIGAMONEY: Exactly, like people know where they were from and also some of the lands were not cleared because the land mine issues are there, and the army is also occupying certain lands of the civilian people - I think we're also negotiating with the relevant authorities, that the land should be given back to the people. So, it's in the process.

LAM: And Caritas of course has been helpiing people return to their homes - how cooperative have the authorities been - for instance, the military?

SIGAMONEY: I will say that from the very beginning, that we got the cooperation from the military as well as from the government authorities. Because we very cordially work with them, and because of that, we were able to even during the peak of the war time, that we were able to be with the people in the war zone area. And later, when the people came to the camps, we were inside the camps and helping the people. And when the people moved from the camps to their original places, we're just with the people at the moment. So Caritas is really getting the support of the government to work and to rebuild the lives of people.

LAM: But there're sections of the community, amongs human rights groups who feel that it's not helpful for the Sri Lankan military to still maintain a very high profile in the former war zones. What's your feeling on this matter?

SIGAMONEY: I also believe that it's high time for the civil administration to come back to that area, so the army personnel should be moved from those areas. I think the government still feels a little insecure, and the land mines need to be fully cleared from that area. It's taking place, but it's a bit slow, I feel personally.

LAM: It's a bit too slow?

SIGAMONEY: Exactly. Then the people will feel secured and they'll also feel more comfortable, in the places where they'll start their new lives.

LAM: Caritas of course has been helping people return to their farms - is there much progress there - can you tell us a bit about that?

SIGAMONEY: As I said the destruction of .. is very, very high. According to the estimates, it's almost like partly or fully damaged houses were almost 165-thousand. We have put up almost about 1,500 permanent houses for the people and we have provided almost about eight thousand livelihoods (sic) for the people, and about 2,800 semi permanent or I would say transition shelters for them. And we're also helping the children - nearly 6,000 children - with their education. So, we do our level best, with the help of our partners to rebuild the lives of these people.

If you take the northern people, they're farmers and also hardworking people. So if they were given an opportunity and also a helping hand, in no time, they will come up in life. So it's important. So many organisaitions are in the process of helping the people to get healed from the trauma that they underwent and also to start a new life, especially through providing livelihood support to them.

LAM: A common refrain of Sri Lankans of all backgrounds, is that almost four years after the war ended, life has not improved much - that they've not seen much progress in the economy. If that's the case for the people in Colombo and the south, I imagine the situation must be must worse for the people in the north and east. Is the nation in danger of having a North-South divide?

SIGAMONEY: I will look at this in a different way. I'll say that a lot of development is taking place, but it needs to go to the interior places. Because if you take the highways that are coming up (being built) and alot of changes are taking place in Colombo city alone - towards the south, alot of developments are taking place. But this also needs to be spread to the interior places and also to the suburbs. So that is very important, because alot of people living in the rural areas, also should experience and also go through this development process.

LAM: National reconciliation is a key factor in helping any factor in helping any nation move forward after a civil war. Do you think there's a role here, for religious leaders in national reconciliation - a kind of multi-faith dialogue?

SIGAMONEY: Sri Lanka, as you said, is a multi-ethnic and a multi-cultural and religious country. And some religious leaders, especially those who're positive and very progressive in the harmony in the country are working towards this. So it's going on. Even as Caritas Sri Lanka, one of our initiatives is inter-religious dialogue. And through this inter-religious dialogue, how we can also bring a north-south dialogue and how we can heal one another.

Because it's not that easy, for those who underwent for the past thirty years of so much hardship and losses in the lives, to turn over immediately, and say, "Ok, we are peaceful people." So it's a process. So the inter-religious initiatives are just going on and it's happening at the moment, I would say.


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