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Empowering the Northern people

It is heartening to note the initiatives that are being taken by the business sector to open up shop in the North which was reduced to a wasteland during the 30 year old conflict. This indeed is a noble endeavour which deserves all the assistance of the Government which is striving to unite a fractured polity.

In our Business section we reported yesterday about the move by well known industrialist Kumar Devapura of Tri-Star Apparel to open the first Garment Factory under the Neganahira Navodaya program, in Thambalagamuwa, Trincomalee.

Devapura it will be recalled was the driving force in the 200 Garment Factory program during the Premadasa regime. This, while taking industries to the rural villages also proved a catalyst for the resurgence of hitherto isolated rural areas not to mention the thousands of jobs it afforded to the rural youth.

It is hoped that the same changes and transformations will be witnessed in the North and East too before long, helping the region emerge from over three decades of isolation that severed it from the national mainstream.

According to Devapura the new garment factory will be opened in Thambalagamuwa during the first week of next month. "The area was earlier controlled by the Tiger rebels. We are targeting over 1000 job opportunities for the rural community in this area", he said.

This indeed would be a god sent opportunity to an area which had been starved of economic activity for decades. There is no gainsaying the need for a sound local economy to keep the populace active and cater to their economic and social needs. Alas, this was not the case in the North and East during the past three decades. No businessman or entrepreneur set foot on it's soil due to the unsettled conditions. Whatever economic activity was there was not allowed to thrive as a result of the guns and bombs.

This no doubt contributed to the growing alienation of the Northern populace whilst also cutting them off from the general scheme of things in the national polity. It is no exaggeration to say that the neglect of these areas contributed in no small measure to the swelling of Tiger ranks with unemployed youth falling easy prey to rebel movements.

Now with the liberation of these areas from the terrorist grip the time has come to re-integrate these parts into the national mainstream without delay. The measures already taken to accelerate the state of normalcy is therefore a welcome development and the move to set off garment factories will be just one facet to this integration.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has vowed not to allow the emergence of any vestige of terrorism once again in this land. If this is to be a reality it is not just political empowerment through devolution but economic empowerment that has to be given top priority.

There is need for plans to be drawn up to cater to the IDPs who are to be resettled in their original dwellings in the near future. No doubt it is going to be a gigantic task to rebuild their traditional livelihoods with most of Northern landscape being reduced to a wasteland. These unfortunate people will have to be guided into other vocations that would bring them a steady income. Most of the youth are of the new generation who will naturally opt for new vocations. The necessary infrastructure has to be put in place so that they could realize their dreams. Without doubt with the legendary industry and drive of the Northerner they would be assimilated to the new environment.

It is here that persons like Devapura can come to the assistance. These folk who all these years have been living a nomadic existence will have to be trained for the new vocations. Opening garment factories alone would not suffice if they have not acquired the skills to fit into their tasks. This aspect too should be looked into by those who plan to start ventures in the North.

A proper economic base should also be set up for the people to find their way and pick up the pieces. In this context the decision by several Banks to open branches in the North is a welcome move. According to our front page report yesterday many banks have shown a considerable interest in resuming normal Banking operations in the North.

The Government we have argued in these columns should lose no time in restoring normalcy in the liberated North by supplanting all the activities and administration machinery of the South in these provinces. The opening of Banks will accomplish part of this mission by extending all the facilities and schemes that have been taken for granted in the South. The move by the Central Bank to formulate new micro-finance programs to cater to the credit needs of the Province is also most welcome. This, while stimulating development in those hitherto neglected areas would also bring in the much needed economic emancipation to the people who had undergone much suffering and privations over the years.

Sri Lankan military should be acclaimed

Throughout history, during times of war, soldiers have been known to do horrible things. Committing atrocities because of fear, stress, confusion or unbalanced mental states is not an uncommon occurrence; animalistic behaviour has not been unknown.

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Time to look beyond Yal Devi

The last time I traveled by train from Jaffna to Colombo was in July 1975. I was returning after covering for the Observer Lake House, the Northern scene just after Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah’s assassination - Velupillai Prabhakaran’s first terrorist act.

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