Role of the UN
The UN yesterday issued
a statement welcoming the escape of tens of thousands of
civilians from the conflict Zone. One could assume that this is
an endorsement of the measures taken by the Government forces to
secure the safe exit of civilians caught in the grip of the LTTE.
It was the perennial fear of the UN as well as Western
Governments that the civilians in the No Fire Zone would be
vulnerable to any sudden outbreak of fighting in the small
pocket the LTTE is presently confined to.
The UN is not unaware of the various measures taken by the
Government to ensure safe passage of the civilians such as the
opening of corridors and rescue missions by sea. The Government
also voluntarily declared a 48 hour ceasefire during the New
Year period to permit the LTTE to free the civilians.
The UN is also cognisant of welfare measures arranged for the
escapees. All these and the fact that the LTTE was never willing
to free the civilians made the UNís call for an extended
All itís appeals to the LTTE to ensure the safe passage of
civilians to Government controlled areas were in vain. The
Government for itís part could not prolong the stalemate.
It had a duty to free the civilian population held hostage by
the LTTE. The President had utmost faith in the security forces
that they were up to this monumental task. They did not
disappoint their Commander-in-Chief.
The UNís fear vis-ŗ-vis security forces were proved to be
unfounded with troops succeeding in engineering perhaps the
biggest human exodus in known history, without harming a single
civilian. On the contrary the LTTE started firing at the fleeing
civilians and used heavy weapons in the No Fire Zone to block
their exit not to mention the multiple suicide attacks which
killed nearly 20 civilians and wounding scores.
It is in this light that the concern expressed by the UN
towards the remaining civilians should be viewed. Itís view in
the statement that there is potential for large-scale casualties
following the initial exodus cannot be discounted. These
casualties can only be inflicted by the LTTE since the security
forces have demonstrated through the finesse of their operations
that it had always striven for zero casualties.
The UN therefore has to prevail on the residue of the LTTE
leadership that the onus is cast on them to ensure the safety of
the civilian population still held by the outfit. By deploring
the LTTE for using force to prevent the departure of civilians
the UN has firmly placed the blame on the plight of civilians at
the doorstep of the LTTE.
It was not long ago that Western Governments were breathing
down the neck of the UN to intervene to halt the offensive to
spare the lives of civilians. We wonder what the position is now
with these International forces who always saw the Governmentís
security forces as the principal villain in the conflict.
No doubt there will be more entreaties to the Government to
call a halt to the offensive or to declare a ceasefire by
certain parties who have now lost the plot, with civilians
moving out on their own accord.
But with President Mahinda Rajapaksa determined to wipe out
terrorism once and for all from Sri Lankaís soil it is doubtful
if their efforts would succeed. Besides after the whole world
witnessed the rescue operation there is bound to be a sea change
in the attitude hitherto displayed towards the forces. It will
be difficult now to convince Governments that the armed forces
are as black as they are painted since what was witnessed was a
humanitarian operation in the true sense of the word.
The onus now lay with the President to execute this
humanitarian operation to itís logical conclusion by providing
all the support and wherewithal to these people to get on their
feet and begin life anew. This admittedly is a Herculean task
and would require the full backing of the international
community. Things will have to start from scratch with the
people made to feel their way into a new existence.
The resettlement program alone would be a mind boggling one
since it would be well neigh possible to identify the land and
homesteads of the people in a charred war ravaged landscape.
Above all, the biggest challenge would be to heal the scars of
war and set up livelihoods and a means of existence to these
multitudes who were virtually consigned as jetsam and flotsam
during the three and half decades old conflict.
The Government cannot afford to keep these people in
temporary shelters eternally. The sooner they are released to
their new environment the better it would be for the process of
national reconciliation and integration.
Besides a lingering refugee problem would bring in itís wake
other problems and open another flank for meddling foreign
busybodies who are bent on undermining the sovereignty of this
The UN would have a bigger role to play in the post conflict
scenario of Sri Lanka especially in the areas of resettlement.
It is heartening to note that despite the global economic
recession the World body set apart a substantial chunk of funds
for itís habitat program at a Council session in Nairobi early
It is hoped that Sri Lanka would be a recipient of a generous
slice of funding for itís resettlement program which no doubt is
going to be a task of gargantuan proportions.