Aug 08, Colombo: The focus of the Sri Lankan government has been to empower all sections of the society, most particularly those who were under the control of the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for decades, so that everyone can fully benefit from the dividends of peace, the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said today.
Delivering the key note address at the Defence Seminar 2012 in Colombo this morning the Defence Secretary said Sri Lanka's journey during the three years since the dawn of peace has seen the country transform itself from a nation at war to a country that is amongst the most peaceful, stable and secure in the world.
This year's Defence Seminar themed 'Towards Lasting Peace and Stability' is centered on the post-war 5Rs - Rehabilitation, Reintegration, Reconstruction, Resettlement and Reconciliation.
The Defence Secretary describing the progress of each process said since the end of the war in May 2009, a great deal of work has been done to improve the opportunities and access to state services of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, caste, or place of origin.
As a pre-requisite for Reconstruction and Resettlement the government had carefully planned and executed a demining programme in the North choosing three priority areas, Rajapaksa explained.
As of today, two of the priority areas - the towns and villages and the agricultural areas and paddy fields have nearly been cleared and work only continues in a few areas where the concentration of mines is highest, he said, adding that the last priority area of forested land is yet to be cleared.
As at end June 2012, 469,275 antipersonnel mines, 1,399 anti-tank mines, and 388,963 unexploded ordnance devices had been recovered.
In terms of reconstruction the Government's first priority is to renovate houses and construct new housing units and through the on-going programs including India-funded project to build 43,000 houses, the housing stock in the North will be greatly increased and improved over the next few years, Secretary Rajapaksa said.
Following reconstruction, the government has successfully resettled 237,672 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) by the end of July 2012. Only 5,424 individuals from 1,597 families remain in the last functioning Welfare Village and these IDPs are from areas that have the highest concentration of mines, which have taken a little longer than expected to render safe, the Defence Secretary elaborated.
Speaking of rehabilitation, Rajapaksa said that 10,965, out of 11,989 LTTE combatants surrendered to the military during the humanitarian operation, have been reintegrated to society so far and only 636 beneficiaries still remain in rehabilitation, at four centers. Another 383 ex-combatants who were in the rehabilitation programme have been identified and detained for further investigations and legal action, he said.
"These findings are not only very encouraging from the point of view of restoring normalcy in Sri Lanka, but they also vindicate the approach adopted by the Government towards rehabilitation and reintegration," the Secretary noted.
Considering the indisputable progress that has been achieved on demining, Reconstruction, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Reintegration, Reconciliation has become the only issue on which those who wish to criticize Sri Lanka can dwell, Defence Secretary pointed out.
However, the criticism is unfounded, the Secretary said, since the government has done a great deal of work to achieve reconciliation among communities.
Among the measures taken for reconciliation by the government are, removal of restrictions on travel to and from North, restoration of complete freedom of movement, removal of restrictions on fishing, reduction of High Security Zones and number of troops deployed in the North, restoration of democratic elections in the North and East, and facilitating the resumption of livelihoods.
"As the people of the North and East resume their day-to-day lives in a peaceful and stable Sri Lanka, they do so with fully restored democratic freedoms, greatly improved standards of living and with unrestricted opportunities to make a better future for themselves," Defence secretary said.
The Secretary expressed confidence that as a result of the many beneficial developments that have taken place since the end of the war, there will be no space for the re-emergence of the previous problems.
Minister of External Affairs Prof. G. L. Peiris, Dr. Subramaniam Swami (Member of Parliament, India), Governor of the Central Bank, Ministry Secretaries, Chief of Defence Staff, Commanders of the three forces, Inspector General of Police, diplomats, foreign dignitaries, military and public officials were among the participants.
Over 250 foreign and local delegates are attending the three-day event that will conclude on Friday.