You have better story than is getting out today - Pascoe to
"UN must understand our problems, I understand
"De-mining won't take 16 years as in Croatia"
"Journalist's offences include being agent of
"Sri Lanka is an equal member of the UN"
"If big countries bully us we will bring it to
- President Rajapaksa
Sri Lanka has a better story than is getting out to
the world on matters of concern to the United Nations such as Internally
Displaced Persons (IDPs), Human rights and Post Conflict Development was
the view of B. Lynn Pascoe, United Nations Under Secretary General for
Political Affairs, following his meeting with President Mahinda
Rajapaksa earlier today(Sep 18).
Mr. Pascoe met the President after visiting Vavuniya
and other areas of the North to get a first hand view ongoing de-mining,
resettlement of IDPs and the IDP relief villages of Menik Farm.
He expressed satisfaction at the progress being made
on de-mining especially with the use of new imported equipments to speed
up the process and assured of more UN assistance in this regard.
He said that while the many assurances given by the
President regarding the resettlement of the IDPs were very helpful,
there was concern about the uncertainty of the government's plans and
the need to make sure the genuine assurances of the President would be
President Rajapaksa said that it's necessary to
understand the both Sri Lanka and the UN were eager the get thing done.
"I understand the pressure and constraints on the Secretary General.
However you must also understand the problems we face", he said.
The President said that more than two hundred thousand
people had come to the government side in just 24 hours and the
government is now feeding, clothing, providing health care and looking
after them properly, while proceeding with plans for their resettlement.
Responding to Mr. Pascoe's observation that
International Community has concerns when it hears that resettlement
will be done after de-mining is completed, President said resettlement
did depend on the de-mining process. He mentioned that sixteen years
after its war, Croatia had still not finished de-mining. "We do not
intend taking so much time. I have laid down an initial target of 180
days to resettle at least 70% of the IDPs". With the new equipment in
use, and hopefully more to come, he expected the entire resettlement to
be completed by the end of next January. We have identified areas for
resettlement and the people will be sent back no sooner they are
cleared, he said.
On the question of IDPs moving to live with relations
outside, the President explained that the government had already
published advertisements in the media, calling for applications from
persons seeking such resettlement. However, only 2000 applications had
been received. These notices would be published again and also displayed
prominently at the welfare villages.
With regard to the freedom of movement outside the
relief centers the President said that arrangements are already being
made to issue day passes for IDPs who wish to go and work outside each
Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Advisor to the President
said that with the experience of 2000 applicants for re-union with
relations, and the limited numbers of jobs in the area, it is likely
that there will be only few takers for these day passes.
Recalling President Rajapaksa's earlier commendable
record on Human Rights, Mr. Pascoe said he would appreciate the need to
bring about necessary changes to the role of the security, forces
especially after a very long war. President Rajapaksa said the UN must
be aware of the changes that had already being initiated at a very early
stage after the war.
On concerns about a journalist being given a 20 year
prison sentence, the President said neither he nor the government could
interfere or be involved with the judiciary. The sentence, was imposed
by a court of law. The problem was with the defense, not seeking a
reduced sentence. The Attorney General had not asked for a maximum
sentence. He said he did not expect the Attorney General to oppose a
shorter sentence when the case came in appeal.
President Rajapaksa however stressed that the
journalist concerned was not sentenced for what he wrote, but for
obtaining funds from the LTTE and being an agent of the LTTE, a known
terrorist organization. There was very little publicity given to this
aspect of the case, he said. He suggested that the UN personnel study
the court report of this case for better understanding.
With regard to Sri Lankan's employed by the UN found
in LTTE held areas, against whom charges had not being filed; the
President said that charges against these drivers would be filed next
week. He stressed that although steps such as deportation could be taken
about foreigners involved in LTTE activities, legal action was required
against Sri Lankans identified with actions that violated the law.
Considering the understanding that existed between the
UN and Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa said he did not expect the UN to
pacify any members, big or small, about the situation in Sri Lanka.
"Whether it is the US, China, Britain or any country we are all members
of the UN. When the UN says anything about us we take it seriously.
Similarly if big countries, try to bully us we will come to the UN about
such matters." Mr. Pascoe concluded telling President Rajapaksa "You
have a better story than is getting out today."