‘Basket of humanitarian issues remain’ - PM

[TamilNet, Saturday, 02 February 2002, 21:50 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister last week acknowledged that more needed to be done to alleviate the considerable difficulties of the Tamils living in areas not controlled by the Sri Lanka Army, the state press reported Saturday. Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Thursday that while food and essential items were reaching the people of Wanni there was yet “a basket of humanitarian issues that needs to be addressed by the government to alleviate the conditions of the Northern citizens,” the Daily News reported.

“We are in the process of addressing all complaints of harassment especially with regard to detention while the question for restrictions on fishing is being examined for the possibility of easing it gradually,” he told the audience at the 2nd death anniversary felicitation of Dr. A. C. S. Hameed at the BMICH.

He said it was the government which still maintains all facilities in the North such as health, education etc. As such it was the duty of the government to ensure that all areas in the country are provided equitably.

“There are also complaints that some parts of the uncleared areas are not been adequately provided and steps are being considered for the opening of the A9 highway to overcome this problem,” Mr Wickremesinghe said. “We are getting food going to the Wanni but I would like to see more food going.”

This would in turn create a better environment for the peace process to start and to proceed to the substantive issues, the Premier explained, recalling how earlier peace talks broke down due to the humanitarian question which was the major issue.

Speaking on the peace process Mr. Wickremesinghe explained that the government was now engaged in laying the foundation for peace talks through alleviating the condition of the citizens in the North, the paper said.

This was in keeping with the UNF's election pledge to allow access to food and other essentials to the people of the North, stop their harassment and to ease restrictions on fishing. “But this would have far reaching consequences which would have the effect of reviving the peace process,” he said.

Although the economic embargo on the Tamil areas not controlled by the army were eased on January 14, there are widespread complaints that essential items are not arriving in sufficient quantities.

The doctors at Kilinochchi hospital say that desperately need basic drugs, such as anaesthetics and painkillers have still not arrived several weeks after the embargo was officially lifted, according to a BBC correspondent who visited the town last week.

The Chairman of the Vanni Citizens’ Committee, Rev M X Karunaratnam, said the Sri Lankan government’s much publicized easing of its economic embargo on the region was “mere eyewash.” He said the Vanni region’s infrastructure was devastated and it was impossible to improve it by rebuilding, as the requisite materials were not being permitted.

In a recent interview to the Uthayan newspaper in Mallavi, Rev. Karunaratnam said “the so called lifting of the economic blockade on Tamil Tiger controlled areas of Vanni is mere eyewash; a political game of counting the numbers of lorries shuttling back and forth.”

The embargo on the free supply of food, fertilizers, kerosene and most essentials, including boxes of matches and sugar, to Mutur east in the southern part of the Trincomalee district is still strictly enforced by the Sri Lanka army at the Kattaiparichchaan entry point, according to the TamilNet's correspondent in the eastern port town who visited the region Thursday.

Earlier last week more than seven hundred fishermen began a protest before the Jaffna district secretariat over military restrictions on their livelihood. They vowed to continue the protest if the government doesn’t take steps to lift the ban and restrictions imposed by the Sri Lankan security forces on fishing in Jaffna.


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