Meets displaced Tamils and inspects resettlement process

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on Tuesday visited Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Jaffna for a firsthand assessment of Indian assistance and the situation of resettled Tamils.

Ms. Rao is the first Foreign Secretary to visit these areas in nearly three decades. The visit is taking place against the backdrop of concerns in India over the pace of resettlement of nearly three lakh Tamils displaced in the conflict between the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE.

The official met a number of civilians awaiting resettlement and those who have already been resettled. India is engaged in massive relief and rehabilitation of the displaced Tamils and in demining operations in the erstwhile conflict areas.

Within days of the conflict ending in May last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a Rs. 500-crore humanitarian assistance. During the June visit of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to India, New Delhi committed itself to building 50,000 houses for the displaced.

A press advisory by the Indian mission here said that at the camp in Menik Farm in Vavuniya, where Ms. Rao met a number of the displaced awaiting resettlement, she assured them of New Delhi's continued commitment to assist them in rebuilding their lives.

Accompanied by Indian High Commissioner Ashok K. Kantha, Governor of the Northern Province G.A. Chandrasiri and senior officials, she received a briefing on the resettlement situation from Kamal Gunaratne, Security Forces Commander of the Wanni.

Announcement hailed

At a public meeting at the Urban Council Hall in Vavuniya, the Foreign Secretary met another group of internally displaced people (IDPs), where India's announcement to build houses was widely welcomed.

Ms. Rao told them that these houses would be built with local participation and the exercise would give a fillip to local employment opportunities. She also met Government Agent (GA) of Vavuniya PSM Charles and discussed other possible areas where India could assist in resettlement.

Then she visited Mahilankulam near Omanthai, a site where the Horizon (ex-servicemen) Group of India is conducting demining operations in a heavily mined area that constituted the no-man's land between the former Forward Defence Lines of the Army and the LTTE. India is funding seven demining teams.

At Kilinochchi, erstwhile political headquarters of the LTTE, she met local Army and civilian officials, who briefed her on the progress of resettlement. “They expressed their happiness that the Government of India was readily coming forward to assist in the process of resettlement. She also met the recently resettled families in the Kilinochchi area and distributed toolkits, cement bags and roofing sheets to them,” the Indian mission said.

In Jaffna, she held discussions with local officials on the situation and the resettlement priorities of the district.

She was given a public reception at the Jaffna Public Library, where Minister for Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Douglas Devananda and the Mayor of Jaffna were present.