Financial Times

US$ 150 million committed for Northern reconstruction to date

By Dilshani Samaraweera

The Government of Sri Lanka has committed US$ 150 million, to date, for reconstruction of the North and has purchased more de-mining machinery to speed up resettlement. A national plan of action on human rights, is also being developed to clean up the country's human rights image and to help in retain the EU's duty free trade scheme, the GSP plus.

The Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe, speaking at the 22 Annual Sessions of the Organisations of Professional Associations last Friday, said a draft National Plan of Action for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, is about to be completed.
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe getting ready to speak

"National objectives, such as ensuring the continuation of the GSP+ facility will be greatly facilitated by the successful implementation of the National Plan of Action," said Minister Samarasinghe.

The Minister did not say when the final plan would be ready or when and how it would be implemented, but said a Presidential Task Force has been set up, chaired by Senior Advisor to the President, Basil Rajapaksa, to speed up the resettlement of around 250,000 people living in camps in the North. The government has already allocated US$ 150 million for rehabilitation of the North.

"A massive quantum of investment is required to ensure the success of this exercise, with an estimated US$ 150 million being committed to date," said Minister Samarasinghe.

De-mining and jobs

The government says mines and other unexploded objects, used in warfare, are still a major obstacle to safe resettlement. To speed up de-mining the government has bought 10 new flailing machines, using public funds. The UNHCR and the UNOCHA have contributed another US$ 5 million to buy de-mining equipment. The bulk of de-mining has so far been done by the Sri Lankan army at the cost of US$ 10 million. Other de-mining agencies are also engaged in clearing mines.

The government says that in addition to de-mining, the North also needs sustainable livelihoods for people to resettle. To ensure jobs and incomes the Minister said the government will implement a long term development strategy under a programme called "Wadakkin Wasantham." A national framework has also been completed to reintegrate nearly 10,000 ex-combatants into civilian life with technical support from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the UNDP.

Displaced people

In addition to those displaced towards the end of the war, the government is also trying to include the resettlement of people expelled from the North by the LTTE as far back as 20 years ago.

"These IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), including Muslims, who were expelled from the Northern Province by the LTTE 20 years ago, pose a challenge due to the complexity of their situation having been in displacement, in some cases for 15 to 20 years," said Minister Samarasinghe.

International image

The Minister also said the government is trying to hold out the hand of friendship to expatriate Sri Lankan's living abroad, while trying to counter allegations aimed at tarnishing Sri Lanka's image.
The Minister said some expatriate Sri Lankans influence media and politicians in foreign countries in promoting an adverse image of Sri Lanka. "These persons have managed to foster links with and continue to influence politicians, media personnel and other opinion leaders in their host countries. We still continue to see the results of their efforts which emanate from time to time.

The Channel 4 canard (on the alleged shooting of civilians by a soldier) was one, and the US Secretary of State's misstatement (that Sri Lanka was among countries where rape was used as a tactic of war) was another," said the Minister. The Minister said the government is taking steps to counter such allegations and is calling on all expatriate Sri Lankans to join the process of reconstruction and reconciliation.

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