Ridma Dissanayake, in Daily News, 25 June 2013
Sri Lanka is in the fourth year since the defeat of terrorism. Now the whole country is on the fast track to development and the priority in the development drive is centred on the war affected areas in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Daily News interviewed Security Forces Commander Kilinochchi Major General Udaya Perera to delve into the progress achieved in the development programmes carried out in the Kilinochchi district with the assistance of the Security Forces.
Q: Kilinochchi was the headquarters of the LTTE and the people living here would have been the worst affected by the LTTE atrocities. What steps have you taken to alleviate their condition?
A: An extent of 1,800 square kilometres is covered by the Security Forces headquarters. Kilinochchi is today safe and secure. We have already resettled all displaced persons in Kilinochchi who lost their homes during the war period. I can clearly say that we have resettled all war affected persons in Kilinochchi in their own homes and new homes built in the same areas. We have already cleared all welfare centres established in Kilinochchi to provide shelter for civilians affected by terrorism. Now there are no such centres in Kilinochchi and we have fully completed the resettlement programme there.
Q: Though you said you have completed the resettlement programme in Kilinochchi we meet many persons who are saying “There is no shelter for us”. What are the reasons for that?
A: Yes. It is correct. Around one percent out of all those displaced by terrorism are still living with their relatives because they have not yet solved the disputes related to their lands. Not only in war affected areas, this problem can be seen in normal villages as well. Despite this we have already completed the resettlement programme in Kilinochchi.
Q: How far have the demining activities progressed in Kilinochchi?
A: We have already cleared the land mines in public areas, including paddy fields and cultivable areas in Kilinochchi. We have already released those lands to the civilians to engage in their traditional livelihoods and other day-to-day activities as usual.
Q: Does this mean that the demining activities are still going on? You have not yet finished the demining activities in the area covering the Security Forces Headquarters in Kilinochchi?
A: No. In the demining project we have given priority to the areas which civilians need more for their day-to-day activities. We have already completed 95 per cent out of the whole demining project which was commenced in Kilinochchi in 2009. The remaining areas are forest areas and demining activities in those areas are still going on. We have marked those areas as the areas still with landmines for the security of the civilians.
Q: How far has infrastructure development progressed in Kilinochchi?
A: We have already developed the A9 road similar to the most developed road systems in the world. In addition to that, other roads are also being developed. The reconstruction of the railway lines in those areas is also to be completed by the end of September. The government is spending Rs.1.3 million per family in war affected areas to develop their infrastructure facilities.
Q: How many families live in the area that belong to the Security Forces Headquarters, Kilinochchi?
A: Over 45,000 families are living in this area.
Q: These families are experiencing the development in infrastructure facilities. What are the plans for upgrading their living standards?
A: Their main livelihood is farming and fishing. At present, all cultivable land in Kilinochchi have tilled and all irrigation facilities have also been restored. The fisheries industry here is also developing with the help of the government and the forces, the fisheries industry in this area has taken a huge leap from what it was before terrorism was ended. Fish harvests too are bountiful.
Q:There are a large number of war widows who are left to fend for themselves. It is a huge tragedy. What steps have you taken to uplift their living standards and livelihoods?
A: A large numbers of such women are living in the Kilinochchi district. We have taken several steps to introduce self-employment avenues for them. We hope to deploy them in the ornamental fish industry, beauty culture, horticulture, landscaping etc. We have already sent women soldiers to villages to train the women who have lost their livelihoods. Both parties are working cordially.
Q: Are these women soldiers all Sinhala?
A: Yes. All of them are Sinhala soldiers.
Q: The language of Sinhala soldiers and Tamil women is not same. This can cause miscommunication?
A: Yes? This was a huge problem we had to face in our attempt to get these Tamil women in Kilinochchi into employment. But we trained them while talking in broken Tamil. Most of them are interested in beauty culture. Their economic standards have improved now. After I informed the Defence Secretary and Army Commander about these projects, they gave their approval and support. After that we decided to recruit Tamils to the Sri Lanka Army and called for applications from Tamil girls. We received around 500 applications.
Q: Did you recruit all of them?
A: No. We have recruited only 109 Tamil girls with the best qualifications. We granted the basic army training and vocational training to all of them. At present, they are deployed in villages belonging to the Kilinochchi Security Forces Headquarters, to train Tamil women who have lost their husbands and livelihoods during terrorism. Now there is no problem in communication.
Q: Several Tamil political leaders have spread various rumours about the Army. They have harmed the good and proud image of the Lankan Security Forces. What is the reason for that?
A: Yes. Several Tamil political leaders have destroyed Tamil civilians’ minds while putting wrong ideas about the Sri Lanka Army and the rest of the forces into them. But the friendly manner in which our women soldiers interact with the Tamils have totally changed their mindset. Now they have a positive attitude about Sri Lankan Security Forces.
Q: What additional steps have you taken to uplift the living standards and rebuilding the economy of families in Kilinochchi?
A: Home gardening is another concept which we hope to launch in Kilinochchi with the aim of uplift the lives and economy of the families in these areas. We have already commenced this programme in some gardens and we hope to commence this programme in each and every home garden in Kilinochchi. We granted ten coconut saplings, an ornamental fish tank, ten chicks with a cage, two heads of cattle and a couple of goats to some homes. In addition to that we have trained them in passion fruit cultivation and bee keeping as well.
Q: How do you select the families for this project?
A: We are giving priority to the families who do not have a regular income and low income families. We hope to gradually develop this programme step by step and absorb all the families in Kilinochchi into this programme while granting all equipment and wherewithal to them.
Q: These persons will need to engage in various projects after they become economically sound. Have you made financial provisions for this?
A: All state banks and private banks have already established their branches in Klinochchi. Because of that, civilians living in this area have enough facilities to engage in commercial projects. Most of these civilians are already engaged in such projects and it is a good evidence to show that their economic levels have improved.
Q: Several pro-LTTE parties are saying that Sinhalese are being settled in the Northern Province by force. Is it correct?
A: The word “settling” is a misnomer. It should be “re-settling”. Around 90 per cent of the land in Kilinochchi are without deeds. They have only licenses. Because of that they are coming to settle in the North with that license. The other thing is that, most of those families’ husbands and wive are not of the same race. Because of that several elements are trying to highlight these families as Sinhala families to mislead the international community. This is not the case.
Q: Are you saying that this allegation is totally baseless?
A: This is the summary of that issue. Sinhalese and Muslims who lived in Kilinochchi was scattered during the war period. Only the Tamils were living in those areas during that period and they used the lands of the Sinhalese and Muslims as well. Sinhalese and Muslims who have temporally settled in the Southern and other provinces are now willing to re-settle in their original lands with the peaceful environment in the country.
Because of that they come to the Northern Province and several elements are trying to portray them as new settlers. But this is further from the truth. It is only a re-settlement.
Q: But, in this matter the international community is pointing the finger at the government?
A: They are talking only about the Tamils who have been displaced by terrorism. They do not know about the Sinhalese and Muslims who were displaced by terrorism. The other thing is Sinhalese and Muslims did not live in welfare camps. Because of that priority was given for the Tamils in the welfare camps and immediate measures taken to resettle them. The international community should understand this situation before criticizing us. The resettlement of persons who have been scattered by terrorism is one of our main responsibilities.
Q: What is the demography in areas covering the Security Forces Headquarters, Kilinochchi?
A: Ninety five per cent out of the whole population is Tamil and others are Sinhalese and Muslim.
Q: At present, reconciliation has become a common topic in Sri Lanka. Is the Sinhala and Muslim percentage in Kilinochchi enough to mediate this reconciliation among Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims?
A: No. But we have already launched some programmes at school level to foster reconciliation among people living in the Northern Province. We have arranged a scholarship programme for all school students in the Northern Province with the contribution of the Army soldiers. It grants a monthly allowance for all school students in the province. It is proceeding in a successful manner and any volunteer who is willing to pay their contribution for the education of students in the Northern Province can do it via this scholarship programme. We hope to arrange trips for students in the South to visit their counterparts in the North and South and organize traditional and religious events with the assistance of these students with the aim of making the above effort a success. For example last year we made Asia’s largest Christmas tree in Kilinochchi and we made a huge pandal which depicted the life story of King Dharmashoka, illuminated with 30,000 bulbs, this Vesak.