”According to TNA leader M.A. Sumanthiran, after May 2009, the defence forces have occupied more than 7,000 sq km of land owned by Tamil people. There is one member of the armed forces for approximately every 10 civilians in the Jaffna Peninsula. ”
R. K. Radhakrishnan
Even as Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and its diplomatic corps douse the many fires at the Perth Commonwealth summit, the Tamil National Alliance leaders are in the United States, meeting ranking leaders in the Obama administration and the United Nations to press for an amicable political solution.
Mr. Rajapaksa had travelled to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly too, last month. He held a series of bilateral meetings with leaders to impress on them the progress Sri Lanka had achieved since the conclusion of the bloody war with the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. In Australia too, he is in the same mode, even as the Tamil diaspora has tried to approach the courts to bring him to justice over alleged war crimes.
While the efforts of the diaspora have at best been irritants, the decision of the TNA to travel to the U.S. to engage the State Department, and the U.N. has been viewed with hostility in the Sri Lankan administration. It has made it clear that the TNA is not the sole representative of the Tamil people, and hence, a meet with the U.N. officials is unnecessary. The TNA, however, has the support of the main Opposition party, the United National Party. According to media reports, the UNP has held that there was nothing wrong in the TNA meeting U.N. Secretary-General and the others to help speed up a political solution.
The TNA’s concerns are in three major areas: the militarisation of the North and the East, the lack of economic opportunities, and the slack attempts at rehabilitation.
According to TNA leader M.A. Sumanthiran, after May 2009, the defence forces have occupied more than 7,000 sq km of land owned by Tamil people. There is one member of the armed forces for approximately every 10 civilians in the Jaffna Peninsula. The heavy presence of the military continues to be the most serious concern in the North and East. More than two years since the conclusion of the war, the government has still failed to facilitate the proper transition of these areas from a situation of conflict to a ‘normal’ environment.
A cursory drive through the A-9 highway to Jaffna, or anywhere in the North will reveal that the military is increasingly involved in economic activity in the North and East. Mr. Sumanthiran says that the military has established a string of restaurants along the main Jaffna highway. An entire military tourism industry catering to Southern visitors is run by the military establishment. The Navy uses state resources to run ferry services for the Southern tourist industry.
Progress in the resettlement of Tamil communities displaced due to the war has been extremely slow. This is a fact that has been independently verified and reported on by the UNHCR too. “According to the government’s own figures as at 1st July 2011, 258,446 had been ‘returned’ or ‘resettled’ from welfare camps, leaving 12,661 in the Kadirgamar, Anandakumarasawmi (Zone 1), Arunachalam (Zone III) IDP camps. The most current figures suggest that only 7,440 persons remain in these camps, insinuating that all others have been returned or resettled. What the statistics do not reveal is that over 200,000 persons in the North and East have not been returned to their places of origin. These persons either continue to be confined in transit camps or have been compelled to take shelter with host families. Such persons include those displaced from Valikamam North in the Jaffna Peninsula, Sampur in the Trincomalee District, and several other areas in the Vanni,” Mr. Sumanthiran said.