Acting on promise to enable greater freedom to about 1.28 lakh war displaced Tamil civilians, the Sri Lanka Government on Tuesday morning threw open the heavily guarded barbed wired sites.

Acting on promise to enable greater freedom to about 1.28 lakh war displaced Tamil civilians, currently housed in the Government run temporary relief camps in the north, the Sri Lanka Government on Tuesday morning threw open the heavily guarded barbed wired sites.

According to the Army spokesperson, Udaya Nanayakkara on the opening day by noon at least 7,000 Tamil civilians had availed of the facility that enables them to travel by a convoy of government buses from Vavuniya to Jaffna to visit their relatives, friends and well wishers.

“The only requirement for those who wish to travel out of the camp is to register their details with the relevant authorities. They have to can return to the camp taking the convoy of government run buses especially run for the IDPs returning from Jaffna”, Brigadier Nanayakkara said.

The decision of the camp authorities to throw open the camp gates is a follow up to the November 21 directive by Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Senior Presidential Advisor and Parliamentarian Basil Rajapaksa on behalf of the President had also announced that Mr. Rajapaksa wants every single displaced person in the war between the security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which concluded in the fourth week of May, to be sent back to their original villages by January 31.

Sri Lankan President has also announced a new package under which each of the resettled people would be provided with Sri Lankan Rs. 5,000 in cash, a savings bank account worth Sri Lankan Rs. 50,000, 6 months of ration and an emergency kit with roofing and bed sheets.

Confinement of nearly 2.9 lakh war displaced behind heavily guarded barbed wired camps and the lack of freedom of movement has been a major issue of concern within and outside Sri Lanka since the end of the Eelam War IV in May.

Thanks to sharp rise in return of the war displaced to their villages in recent weeks, the total number of IDPs remaining in the welfare centres in Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar, Trincomalee and the hospitals is now down to 1.28 lakh.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa conveyed the plans of his government to re-settle all the war displaced by end 2009 to high power senior officials led by the National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan.

A few weeks ago Mr. Rajapaksa had told a 10-member delegation of ruling-combine MPs from Tamil Nadu, which visited Sri Lanka from October 10 to 15 that 58,000 internally-displaced Tamils in camps would be sent back to their native places within a fortnight.

With the Presidential election scheduled on January 26 and parliamentary election to be held by April, the opposition parties have been targeting the Mahinda Rajapaksa government on this count.

General (Retd) Sarath Fonseka, who has thrown his hat into the Presidential race as a consensus Presidential candidate of prominent opposition parties, cited the travails of the war displaced as one of the 16 reasons that prompted him to seek pre-mature retirement from the position of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

In his resignation letter to President Rajapaksa, the former Army Chief had said, “The plight of the IDPs is also a point of great concern to me. Thousands of valiant soldiers sacrificed their valuable lives to liberate these unfortunate civilians from the brutality and tyranny of the LTTE in order that they could live in an environment of freedom and democracy. Yet, today many of them are continuing to live in appalling conditions due to lack of proper planning on the part of the government and the IDPs who have friends and relatives elsewhere in the country must be given the choice to live with them until proper demining has been done in their areas.”

On Thursday afternoon the commander turned politician is scheduled to hold a press conference at the Parliament House, on the outskirts of the nation, along with the former Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and head of the newly floated 18-party United National Front (UNF).

Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Rauf Hakeem and chief of Democratic Peoples Front (DPF) leader, Mano Ganeshan are expected to be present on the occasion. It is immediately not clear if Mr. Ganeshan would be there to signal support of his party to the retired General or merely observe the proceedings as he along with some political parties are exploring the possibility of fielding a common Tamil candidate to provide an opportunity to voters who do not want to vote to either Mr. Rajapaksa or military commander turned politician.

The dilemma before some of the parties representing minorities was evident from the comments made by the Democratic Peoples Front (DPF) leader, Mano Ganeshan, when approached by The Hindu after a meeting of his party last week.

He said: “Our decision is to work for the defeat of Mr. Rajapaksa. We would choose from one of the two options of either backing General (retd.) Fonseka or fielding a common Tamil candidate by next Thursday.”

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