|Putting the record straight|
|Wednesday, 18 February 2009|
The letter below was sent by the Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights to the Times of London, in response to an editorial which referred to Sri Lanka, though it noted that concentration camps were a creation of the British.
The Times of London
Your editorial on Sri Lanka: ‘The Barbed Wire returns’ was an improvement on the article by Jeremy Page that also used emotive language, but it still had errors which should be corrected. You talk of some 250,000 civilians trapped by the fighting.
The government has pointed out that District Secretaries, now safe ensconced in government areas, have confirmed that there was much duplication in the lists of those to whom government continued to send food for the last several years.
Our estimates are that there are no more than 100,000 civilians left in the clutch of the Tigers now, about 40,000 having got to government controlled areas in the last few weeks.
You mention a ‘safe zone’ in which the Army wants to imprison non-combatants. The term actually refers to the zone designated by the army for civilian safety in the area still under the control of the Tigers.
The first such area was subject to Tiger fire, as confirmed by the UN which noted, when people in the area were first hit, that ‘we believe that firing this morning most likely was from an LTTE position’. You only note that the Tigers fired on civilians as they tried to escape, not that they also killed those who were waiting helpless in the areas into which they had been dragooned.
It is all too easy, as you say, to predict starvation, despair and death. The Tigers have been doing this for ages, while inflicting starvation, despair, forced conscription and death on those who remained under their control.
That is why so many have tried to escape to government controlled areas, defying the predictions of Tigers and those who credit them. You claim that people fleeing the crossfire have been killed by mines.
People are not fleeing crossfire; they are being led out by courageous community leaders such as priests and nuns, who are shot for their pains, as was testified to by the nun now in Trincomalee hospital. The mines were laid by the LTTE, in a practice that they have indulged in ruthlessly, increasing numbers now precisely to stop people trying to escape from them.
You then claim that the ICRC ‘was forced yesterday to evacuate 160 patients from a makeshift hospital where artillery shelling killed 16 people earlier in the week’. The ICRC, while it accomplished the evacuation with the cooperation of the LTTE as well as the government, in accordance with its mandate, noted in its release that ‘The ICRC is supporting the Ministry of Health in Trincomalee district as it provides care for this exceptional influx of patients.... ICRC personnel are providing support for Ministry of Health staff who are treating the dozens of patients that continue to arrive in the area every day’.
Perhaps even belatedly you might acknowledge the fact that the Government has continued to equip and staff hospitals and provide healthcare for areas that were under LTTE control for years, because the people there are our citizens and Sri Lanka provides free health services to all of us.
You then comment that, ‘The United Nations is planning for an exodus of 150,000 people. But the troops appear intent on holding them, ostensibly for their safety but in fact to root out any supporters or relatives of the Tiger fighters’.
This is rank confusion. The Government is planning for an exodus of about 150,000 people, as noted above (not the 250,000 you mention elsewhere in your leader) and the UN is helping them in this. No one wants to hold the people back except the Tigers.
Both the UN and the government want the civilians in government controlled areas, where the UN is helping the government with temporary shelters.
The UN has agreed that the civilians should be kept there or in welfare villages, though it is urging rapid resettlement, the opposite of what it urged in the East when the government resettled those who had been displaced far more quickly than anticipated.
In this case, the Government knows that demining will be slower, so it is catering for the possibility that some will still be on its hands in a couple of years, but it had long decided to begin resettlement within a few months at least in areas it took over a year ago.
I hope you will publish this letter as a correction of your errors. I attach too an article* I wrote in response to the piece by Mr Page. I realize it is long, but I believe your readers deserve a thorough analysis of a subject to which Mr Page fails to do justice.
Yours sincerelyProf. Rajiva Wijesinha
|Last Updated ( Friday, 09 October 2009 )|
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