The Sri Lankan government on Monday said less than 2 lakh displaced Tamil civilians remained to be resettled in their districts of origin and officials were taking urgent steps to expedite their return home.
Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasingha said 196,088 IDPs were left in camps in the Vavuniya district.
At present, 14 mine clearing machines were operating to expedite resettlement, he said, adding that 10 more machines would soon be deployed.
But questions remain about the demining process. In the last one week, the Lankan government has claimed to resettle 41685 refugees in four districts including Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, once considered LTTE strongholds.
Till October 15 – and since May, when the 26-year-long war with the LTTE ended -- 84 square km of land in the Mannar district had been cleared of mines. And the government’s been saying that the process of resettlement was taking time because areas had to be demined before people could be sent back.
Diplomatic sources told HT that the total area still mined is a massive 6500 sq km. And anything between half-a-million to one million mines and `unexploded ordinance’ (UXOs) are spread in this area.
The 2-lakh strong SLA had deployed only 383 soldiers in de-mining; another 200 were being trained. In contrast, six international groups – including two Indian groups Sarvatra and Horizons – have about 1500-2000 trained former armed forces personnel on the ground doing demining.
The two Indian organisations have three groups each with 200 personnel. But it’s the Sri Lankan government, which decides the areas that are to be demined.
"The INGOs are really slow and have not increased capacity. We are using everything including dogs and machines to demine. It is also being manually. We do not want to keep these people (the Tamil refugees)," WKK Kumarasiri, secretary, Ministry of Nation Building involved in the demining process, said.
Sources said that of the 84 sq km cleared, the SLA has only "claimed" to have done more than 70 per cent.
"The demining done by the international groups has to be ratified by the UN; their work is open to assessment and confirmation. But SLA claims cannot be checked by the UN,’’ sources said, adding that the rate at which demining was being carried out, it could take several years before the process was completed.