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War fears mar 2006 in Sri Lanka

Resumption of war and food shortages mark 2006, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2006 12:24 IST

For the majority of Sri Lankans (70% Sinhala) 2005 ended on a note of fulfilment, and hope of a bright future, because they had elected "Ape Mahinda" (Our Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Peoples' Man) as the President of the country.

But contrary to expectations, 2006 is ending on a sombre note.

In the Tamil-speaking North East, 2006 has been marked by resumption of war, massive internal displacements and food shortages.

And in the Sinhala-speaking South, the people have been subjected to spiralling inflation, terrorist strikes, assassinations and attempted assassinations, abductions for ransom and restrictive laws.

The people in the South have at least one silver lining in the dark cloud, namely, the exploits of the Sri Lankan military against the LTTE in the North and East.

The Security Forces had foiled the LTTE's bid to take Jaffna. They had driven it away from Mavil Aaru, Mutur and Sampur, and are now poised to take Vaharai.

But for the people of the North-East, the fighting had meant aerial bombings and shelling by the artillery.

A desperate LTTE had also been using civilians as a human shield. Both the Prabhakaran and Karuna factions of the LTTE had been abducting Tamil kids for their fighting forces.

According to reports, more than 3,000 civilians and combatants (including 653 government troops according to The Sunday Leader) have been killed in 2006.

The LTTE, by its own admission, has lost 818 combatants, but the Sri Lankan Army chief Gen Sarath Fonseka puts Tiger loses at over 2,000.

Even more worryingly, the hostilities have triggered the displacement of 250,000 people, mostly Tamils, but some Muslims and Sinhalas also.

And a government ban on foreign humanitarian organisations working in the North-East had deprived the displaced of critical help for much of the year.

The closure of the A9 at Muhamalai by the government for security reasons, and the refusal of the LTTE to guarantee free movement of food by sea, had resulted in the 600,000 Tamils of Jaffna facing a severe shortage of food and medicines and sky-high prices.

Prices went up in the South too. Officially, inflation was 12 per cent in November. But other estimates put it as 17 per cent.

Hotel owners say that the war and the resultant Western travel advisories may result in the tourist industry losing US$ 150 million this year.

High corruption has been another worrying factor. The Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises reported that about SLRs 100 billion (INR 50 billion) had been siphoned off.

Tsunami reconstruction work has left much to be desired, though there have been some success stories. Out of the target of building 57,000 Transitional Shelters, 17,000 still remains to be built says the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies.

While the Owner-Driven Programme (ODP) has permanently resettled 72 per cent of the 78,500 families assigned to it, the Donor Driven Programme (DDP) is still to build 11, 365 of the 22,000 houses assigned to it.

The Nation said that out of the 68,914 shelters assigned to the International NGOs (INGOs), only 2895 had been completed by August 2006.

Out of the 173 schools fully damaged schools given to the donors for rehabilitation, only 18 has been re-built.

And out of the 255 partially damaged ones, only 38 have been repaired. Because of all this, 30 per cent of the tsunami-hit kids are still school-less, says The Sunday Times.

South benefits more than the North East

The war-torn North and East, especially the area under the control of the LTTE, has been getting a raw deal in terms of tsunami reconstruction work, though 64 per cent (approximately US$ 1.4 billion) of Sri Lanka's requirement relates to the North-East.

According to Care International, only 10 per cent of the target in housing has been achieved in the North-East, while in the Southern districts it is 90 per cent.

Enough funds have not flowed into the North East, because of the on-going war and the ever-present animosity between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state.

In the LTTE controlled districts, before the hostilities, a little less that 50 per cent of the target had been achieved. But after the resumption of war, the achievement has been less than 1 per cent.

The 2002 Ceasefire Agreement is now in tatters. The Norwegian peace brokers have been sidelined.

And political moves to solve the problem suffered a blow when the government distanced itself from the "Majority Report" of the Experts Committee on devolution of power to the Tamils.

First Published: Dec 25, 2006 11:42 IST