Relief Villages for 100,000 displaced people

By Chris Kamalendran

The Government will set up ‘Relief Villages’ in the Vavuniya district to accommodate about 100,000 civilians who are expected to move out of the conflict zone in the Mullaitivu district in the coming weeks, a minister said yesterday.

The move came as some 5,000 civilians entered government-controlled areas yesterday -- the biggest crossover from the LTTE controlled areas so far. Officials said so far around 9,000 people had crossed over to Vavuniya and another 2,000 were being screened at Omanthai before being sent to Vavuniya. Another 3,000 are in army-controlled areas in Killinochchi awaiting transport to Vavuniya.

Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa shares a light moment with displaced children at a school in Vavuniya yesterday, while Re-settlement Minister Rishard Bathiudeen looks on.

“We are expecting around 100,000 people to move into government controlled areas within the next few days,” Re-settlement Minister Rishard Bathiudeen said yesterday. He said around 1000 acres of state land had been allocated for this purpose. Schools, medical and other facilities would be provided for the displaced people.

The minister said the Relief Villages would function using the resources of the IDPs, including teachers, medical personnel and public servants while the assistance of INGOs and NGOS would also be sought.

The Relief Villages would serve as a temporary measure until the displaced people could be re-settled in their native villages and towns once the security clearance was given, Mr. Bathiudeen said. The minister gave these details after chairing a meeting at the District Secretariat in Vavuniya yesterday with officials of UN aid agencies, including the World Food Program, INGOs and local government officials.

The UN has agreed to provide semi permanent shelters, water and sanitation facilities for the people. As an immediate step, the government will acquire the Vavuniya technical college, the college of education, Gamini Maha Vidyalaya and the Poonthottam Maha Vidyalaya to house the displaced. A senior army officer has been appointed as the chief coordinator of the project and he would be assisted by the Ministry for Re-Settlement and the Commissioner General for Essential Services, the minister said.

“Dozens of INGOs and NGOs currently idling in Vavuniya could also play a major role in this exercise,” he said. Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapksa also met diplomats and representatives of INGOs and NGOs last week to brief them of the government plans and asked them to put forward their proposals for the resettlement of the displaced people.

He said the government wanted to avoid a situation like the post-tsunami one where many organizations flocked into the affected areas but some of them did little work. A participant at the meeting said the INGOs and NGOs were prepared to extend their fullest cooperation towards this re-settlement effort but they sought assurances from the government on freedom of movement for their staff members along with security clearances. The INGOs and NGOs fully understood the complexity of the situation taking into consideration the security factor as well, since a large number of LTTE cadres were likely to infiltrate the civilian lines and therefore there was cause to be extra alert, he said.

Meanwhile, on Friday Mr. Rajapaksa visited the IDP camps in Manik Farm in Vavuniya along with Minister Bathiudeen and assured the people the government would act promptly to provide them with proper settlements.

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