The Sunday Times Editorial

30th June 1996

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Jaffna:it's make or break

The governments vision to rebuild Jaffna into a city of peace and rehabilitate the northern people in keeping with their traditions and cultural ethos, opens a new chapter in the countryís history.

Indeed when the swords are turned into ploughshares and the spears into pruning hooks, a curse or a calamity that has shattered this country could become a blessing.

Last Thursday’s meeting between government leaders, including President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and envoys of western donor countries to obtain the 13 billion rupees required for the rebuilding and rehabilitation of Jaffna, is being given different interpretations. While some quarters say no big money was pledged, government sources say it was not meant to be a pledge-meeting but only a briefing on the plans to reconstruct the war-ravaged north.

According to insiders, one of the most significant features at Thursdayís informal aid group meeting was the statement of US Ambassador Peter Burleigh. He said he had instructions from the Clinton administration in Washington to say the US welcomed the return of the Jaffna peninsula to the control of the Sri Lanka government. This pronouncement itself was worth a million dollars. It was a devastating blow to the strong and once influential Thamil Eelam lobby in the US, known to include Medical specialists, top lawyers and other professionals who would, however, never set foot on their fairytale Eelam in the peninsula to practise.

Unfortunately, the US did not immediately pledge any dollars. There is some merit in the donors concern in putting their greenbacks where their mouth is. They feel the ground situation must stabilise a little more before opening the financial tap.

But the government is setting about the task in a practical and prudent manner which can lead to the pacification of the peninsula. Even the LTTE has acknowledged that such a move could take away the desire among the Tamils in the north for national liberation and a homeland.

When idle hands get involved in rebuilding an economy, the spin-offs become detrimental to armed groups that thrive on claims of discrimination or other factors like unemployment and under-development.

There is a feeling in the south that the North does not deserve all the fuss. Some argue — and there is some merit in such argument — that if the government concentrates most of its resources in rehabilitating the north and neglects the South, the JVP or its offshoot will find a breeding ground for fresh recruits.

No doubt, a wide-powered a Southern Development Authority has been set up with an ambitious plan, but it will take some time to get off the ground. Yet, the majority in the South must accept the fact the Jaffna peninsula has not only been neglected and run down but also bombed out, ruined and ravaged — both by the armed forces in their legitimate quest to wrest control of the area and by the LTTE which ran its own brand of economy there.

The people in the South must know that the development of the north will further weaken the LTTE and the 13-year-old claim for Eelam. The defence budget has escalated from Rs. 38 billion to a staggering Rs. 48 billion. A no-war period would enable billions of rupees now being spent on the war effort, to be diverted to improve living standards of all the people of this country.

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