The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has claimed that its electoral victory in the two provincial elections was on the strength of the war it is fighting against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
But post-victory, if the UPFA fails quickly resolve the issue of the internally displaced, the real losers in this war of attrition could turn out to be the thousands of uprooted civilians in northern Sri Lanka.
The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), a noted civil society group, has told HT that the situation is getting worse or more than 150,000, largely Tamil men, women and children affected by the war in the north.
The government held another high-level meeting on Monday attended by representatives from the United Nations, World Food Organisation and UNHCR to assess the situation.
“The medicine situation is good and the food situation is manageable. The displaced have been moved into 13 schools. We are now sending some mosquito nets,'” Basil Rajapaksa, senior advisor to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, told HT.
The UTHR (J), which maintains a low profile, however painted a more grim picture and told HT over e-mail that the displaced were sandwiched between the advancing Sri Lankan army (SLA) and the LTTE, which was on a recruitment spree.
“They (the displaced) represent the endemic problem of a generation of Tamil refugees, who have been displaced and resettled several times in the last 25 years and many of them half a dozen times in the last year. The LTTE conscripted many of their children and blocks their escape, and the Government herds them like cattle by shelling, driving them deeper into LTTE territory,” the group said.
Adding to the problem for the displaced is that their shelters have become fertile recruitment fields for the Tigers. “Displacement has also made conscription easy for the LTTE. Using its records the LTTE ‘plucks’ conscripts from refugee camps. At present it is applying pressure on families to hand over a second member, and even asking whole families to join,” the UTHR (J) said.
Thousands are staying under trees in jungles, receiving rations, but with no income to buy medicines, and no schooling for their children. “Snakebite is common in their situation and 23 cases were recently admitted to Killinochchi Hospital,” the email said.
Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe, secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, said: “at the moment, things are under control. There is sufficient food available (for the displaced) as there has been enough rice production. The displaced are currently staying in schools. We are hoping that there would be enough cleared area in the next few weeks for people to move to when the schools reopen.”