The 10-member parliamentary delegation from Tamil Nadu on Tuesday called on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and exchanged views on the rehabilitation of the 2.5-lakh war displaced housed in government-run camps and the contours of a political solution to the ethnic conflict.
A report on the meeting posted on the Presidential Secretariat web site said: “They came with a different mindset but having visited the welfare centres for IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons], they are returning with a more positive attitude, said [the] Tamil Nadu MPs when they met [the] President.”
Here on an invitation from Mr. Rajapaksa, the delegation on Sunday visited the refugee camps in Vavuniya, and the Jaffna peninsula and on Monday the plantations in the hill district, where the British indentured Indian-origin Tamils are settled.
Stress on acceptance by all communities
“With regard to discussions on a political settlement to the ethnic question, the President said any settlement must be one that is accepted by all communities and by Sri Lanka’s neighbour,” the report said.
Further, Mr. Rajapaksa emphasised the multi-ethnic nature of Sri Lankan society, referring to the 65 per cent of Tamils who live outside the provinces of north and east, mostly in and around Colombo.
The delegation expressed fears about the coming monsoon rains but it was assured that steps had been taken to ensure that no hardships were caused to the IDPs.
Senior adviser to President Basil Rajapaksa told the delegation that within two days the crowding in the centres would start reducing with increased resettlement.
The report said Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa told the delegation that he was glad that the MPs came because it was important for people to assess the situation themselves as there were many misconceptions and false information being spread regarding the IDPs.
“They were concerned about the speedy resettlement of IDPs but were also appreciative of the actions taken by the government so far, in this direction. The President emphasised that de-mining must be done first before any resettlement,” it said.
The delegation thanked the President for the invitation and appreciated the arrangements made for its visit. The MPs also met Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayaka and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Before returning to Chennai on Wednesday the delegation will call on Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The UNP had welcomed the move of the delegation to meet the IDPs in the camps. In a statement, UNP organiser Ram said the visit should help the displaced persons come out of the camps and live a normal life.
“Before the war all communities lived amicably, which was disrupted by the cruel war. Now that the war is over, steps should be taken to resettle the IDPs and accelerate their return to normal life. The south Indian MPs must play a vital role towards achieving this goal,” the UNP statement said.
Meanwhile, English daily The Island, quoting unnamed government officials, said there was absolutely no truth in the allegation that it was planned to settle the Sinhalese in Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu districts.
‘A barefaced lie’
The charge was levelled by the Tamil National Alliance at a meeting with the visiting parliamentarians at India House on Saturday. “This was nothing but a barefaced lie, ministerial sources told The Island adding that the TNA had recently pledged to work with the government to resettle the war displaced. This understanding had been reached at a meeting chaired by Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, the senior official in charge of resettlement and rehabilitation.”
“The TNA had also alleged that action had not been taken to clear mines in the Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu districts. Military sources said Sri Lankan forces and INGOs engaged in humanitarian mine clearing operations were deployed west of A9. Once they completed clearing operations, humanitarian de-mining operations could be stepped up east of A9,” the daily said.