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Last modified on: 12/30/2010 11:37:22 PM Government disdains subjective media reports on humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka

Government disdains subjective media reports on humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Human Rights Minister Hon. Mahinda Samarasinghe yesterday (Feb 13) disdained two media reports with highly distorted facts about the government's policy towards managing IDP welfare centres and their resettlement process.

Speaking at the second media briefing on humanitarian situation in the country's north, the Minister called two newspaper articles, one appeared on the Times in London in the UK and the other on the Daily Mirror in Sri Lanka were extremely subjective and written with deliberate intention to tarnish the good image of the country. He expressed the government's point of view on the issue with written testimonials to prove the two newspapers had misled their readers. The media briefing was held at Presidential Secretariat last evening for the foreign media personnel.

Speaking first about an article titled "Barbed Wire Villages Raise Fears of Refugee Concentration Camps" written by one Mr. Jeremy Page and published on the yesterday's edition of the Times of London, the Minister said that the journalist had hoodwinked the readers with a lie which is the furthest from the truth about Sri Lanka. He quoted several recent communications between the government and independent international bodies concerning the situation of the IDPs in Wanni to support his argument.

He showed a document that had been shared with him on the previous day by the Inter Agency Emergency Coordinating Committee to the audience and claimed that it is a sufficient proof that all the UN agencies and its preferred partners - NGOs and INGOs have not only been given access to all IDP centres but also have been working with the government at those places.

Referring back to the Times of London article, he said that the newspaper had accused the government of " planning concentration camps to hold 200,000 Tamil refugees from north-eastern conflict zones up to 3 years and seeking funding for the project from Britain"

Minister pointed out that journalist who can distort the truth to that extent should be made accountable for their sinister deeds.

" The UN itself says that the transit camps and welfare villages are opened for UN and NGO/INGO community to go in and work inside them and help the you find a person perhaps sitting in London writing an article causing a complete damage to the good image of the country"

The Minister categorically denied the accusation of setting up concentration camps telling that international personnel are working in each and every camp and village alongside the government agents, looking after the interests of the occupants.

"They are far from concentration camps, they are open camps... they are places where we welcome our international partners to complement our efforts put on behalf of the people living in those areas"

The Minister then revealed some of the facts on a note delivered by UN resident representative Mr. Neil Buhne to Minister Basil Rajapaksa one the same day, to further support the government's point of view. The Minister also said that those were the observation made by Mr. Brune following a visit to Vavuniya, where he had travelled previous day and had spent 7 and half hours.

According to the Minister, Mr. Buhne had observed that people in the welfare camps are "quickly getting a dry and clean place to rest, with access to food, simple medical care, basic sanitation" and are provided with "none food relief items like material to wash with, mats, water containers, mosquito nets, adequate water and sanitation" despite the large number of occupants.

" He gives complements to Minister Rishad Badurdeen and the Government agent for their excellent work, he appreciates the relative calm enjoyed by the people there after being caught up with fighting and shelling for many days..."

" He observes that there was good cooperation among the local governments, UN agencies, NGOs and the Military Police posted in the camps, and he sees the surrounding communities as supportive, trying to help ... students shifting their classes to open locations cheerfully to give their classrooms for the IDPs ...and there are many other positive points that he had observed on his visit to different camps"

Also, referring to the challenges pointed out by the UN representative, the Minister said that a need of a system to locate individuals separated from their families and to reunite them had been highlighted.

"We have already addressed  this today itself by setting up a help desk at each camp and village... now the people can go and speak to councillors there and give the details of the family members who are not with them...there is a system we have put in place to track the members who are living in other camps and to reunite them with their families"

Coming back to the main issue, the Minister asked whether the positive observations made by the UN were possible in a concentration camp full of barbed wires. He requested all journalists in the audience to carry the message about the untruth about this false accusation.

Further strengthening his point, the Minister also quoted a letter sent by Bishop of Jaffna, Dr. Thomas Saundranayagam to the President on 9th February appreciating the government's sincere commitment to look after the IDPs.

Meanwhile, a journalist in the audience raised a question whether Mr. Jeremy Page had written the article out of anger that the Sri Lankan Government had not given him visa.

The Minster responded the question telling that if Mr. Page had done that he is not fit to be a journalist at all.

Foreign Secretary, Dr. Palitha Kohona who was also at the media briefing adding his comment said that though the journalist might have written the article out of frustration, he couldn't be called a  person who was ignorant about concentration camps as he was coming from a country that actually introduced them to the world.

Then taking up the issue with the Daily Mirror, the Minister went on to say that the newspaper had published a front-page article saying that the government was planning to keep the refugees in welfare villages for three years. He said that the news is completely false and the government policy is to resettle the IDPs in the shortest possible time, meeting international standards and without taking any short cuts.

" There are lot of work to be done before a proper resettlement... de-mining has to be completed, basic infrastructure facilities to be restored, basic public administration services to be established... police, post offices, banks, etc are to be set up"

The Minister then described how the government is planning to get the people's consent for the resettlement.

"Once the area is prepared, we will take community leaders in the respective areas to their villages. So they can assess whether the environment there is conducive enough for the  resettlement. Then it is for them to inform their observations  to the others and to get their  informed choice whether to go back to their villages or not"

Minister said that once the people decided to move back, the government would focus its efforts to provide them with livelihood so that the resettlement process will have a meaningful completion.

Speaking about the latest IDP situation, the Minister said that the figure he received last was 34, 629 out of which 29,692 sheltered in Vavuniya, 1957 in Jaffna, and 854 in Mannar. Another 2123 IDP's were at the transit camps in Kilinochchi and Omanthai waiting to be received by the Government agents within the next 24 hours, he further said.

" They will be sheltered in school buildings, and other government offices up to 6-8 weeks before being settled in the welfare villages where they will be given shelter until the resettlement begins"

The Minister also informed the audience about the shifting of no fire zone in the remaining LTTE hiding areas and revealed that the government is expecting to receive the civilians at Mullaittivu, Challai and Puthukkuduyiruppu areas.

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