The ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was not present in Parliament on Thursday as the House passed the motion to extend the State of Emergency for another month by a majority of 87 votes.
The government meanwhile announced that the nearly 2.5 lakh war displaced persons living in the northern transitional relief villages can seek accommodation with their relatives residing outside these centres.
The Emergency motion was supported by 100 parliamentarians and 13 members of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) voted against. It is for the first time the JVP has stayed away from Parliament when the motion was tabled.
Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Rishad Bathiudeen said the displaced, after clearance of identities and relationships, would be allowed to leave these centres. The decision, coming into effect this week, had been made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, he said. Proof of the consent of the IDPs to live with their relations should be furnished.
He said the government could not say how many people would be released, but that it would consider all applications from relatives outside the camps. “If the application comes, we will attend to it.”
The government has said it is aiming to resettle about 80 per cent of the refugees by year-end, and Mr. Bathiudeen said most people would be out of the camps by end-January. “By the 31st of January … we will have more people resettled — the majority of people will be resettled,” he said.
The United Nations welcomed the decision. “It’s something we’ve been advocating for some time, that it’s in the interest of the IDPs to be with relatives, where they can be looked after in a normal community. So we are extremely pleased with this announcement,” according to Neil Buhne, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka.
In recent weeks, pressure has been mounting on the government to release those who faced no charges of links with the LTTE.
Aid workers have been critical of cramped and poor conditions in the camps, raising fears that next month’s monsoon season will aggravate the situation. Figures supplied by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show that in the northern district of Vavuniya, many camps are congested and over-crowded.
Speaking in Parliament, Leader of the Opposition and a former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, charged that Wanni citizens are not being held in the government camps under any law.
“This is illegal. We have a government that is acting outside the law and violating the Constitution. We, in Parliament must rectify the situation. The armed conflict is over and it is not necessary to confine them to the camps if they can find other accommodation.”
He urged Parliament to approve regulations under the Public Security Ordinance for the establishment of Centres for the war displaced in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, establish a Parliamentary Committee to oversee the re-settlement of the IDPs and LTTE suspects to be detained under Regulation 19.
He also agreed with the proposal made by Bimal Ratnayake, JVP MP, calling for a fact book of the IDPs enabling the relatives to obtain details of their whereabouts.
He argued that the government had had three months to identify LTTE personnel and the military had already identified over 9,000 suspects. “According to news reports thousands of people have escaped from camps including active LTTE cadres. The government has also refused permission for the Opposition Members of Parliament to visit these camps.”
He said another threat to media freedom is the government’s attempt to reintroduce criminal sanctions against media personnel.
On Tissanayagam case, Mr. Wickremesinghe said that the judgment is not against Mr. Tissanayagam but against media. “Journalists can be arrested under laws pertaining to terrorism even if they are not terrorists. Then the police forces confessions. Thereafter he is convicted solely on the confession. This is the justice which prevailed in Adolf Hitler’s time.”
Separately, the Defence Ministry said that the United States Pacific Command is providing training and equipment to the Army to assist its de-mining efforts.
“The total cost for the humanitarian de-mining programme provided to the SLA is valued over $100,000. This program is in addition to the $6.6 million the U.S. has recently contributed toward de-mining activities in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province”.