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