High Commissioner-designate Ashok K. Kantha presented his credentials to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa here on Monday.
A senior member of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Mr. Kantha was High Commissioner to Malaysia and he succeeds Alok Prasad.
In the course of his 32-year career, Mr. Kantha has held key positions in Kathmandu, Beijing and Washington D.C. as well as at the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi.
Meanwhile, the U.N. and some non-governmental organisations in Sri Lanka, while welcoming the decision to resettle the nearly 2.9 lakh war displaced by January 31, have said the government must ensure they are properly cared for.
Country director for Oxfam Rene De Vries told Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), which functions under the aegis of the U.N., said allowing freedom of movement was a “good step forward from closed camps”, but it was unclear to what extent the IDPs would be able to move freely.
“We’ll just have to see how far this will be implemented... As far as we understand now, it’s not total freedom. It will be a pass system where people will be allowed to leave for a fixed period of time ... but then will have to return to the camp.”
In Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu, where the heaviest fighting took place, people were being sent to their houses with very little infrastructure in place. “They are left to fend for themselves and we believe that NGOs can have a different attitude and approach to help them start up their lives again,” he told the U.N. agency.
The IRIN said a confidential report by local civil society organisations, which visited resettlement areas in Mannar and Kilinochchi in recent weeks, said the ground situation varied.
“In Thunukkai [a village in Kilinochchi], one of the positive aspects I noticed was that people still have a standing house. Many returnees appreciated the fact that they have come back to their original homes from the barbed wire camp,” states the report, a copy of which is available with IRIN.
“However, their freedom of movement is still in question,” it says. “IDPs living in Menik Farm are given special ID cards and their movement, even after the return, has been carefully monitored,” it said, referring to the largest camp.
In resettlement areas south and north of Mannar, IDPs resettled months ago are still living in open huts with poor infrastructure, and schools and hospitals far away, it said.
“Without any basic facilities [proper shelter, hospitals, transport, schools, drinking water, electricity and access to any form of livelihood activities] and basic right to freedom of movement, one has to wonder what it means to these IDPs to come back home,” it said.
Neil Buhne, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for Sri Lanka, said the returns had been completed in the east, and since mid-October, more than 46,000 people had been returned in the north. “We have pretty good access to the returnees, and so far, it has been satisfactory,” he told IRIN.