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Akashi Finds Response of Sinhalese to Plight of IDP's 'Heartwarming'

“IT’S HEARTWARMING that people from the South of Sri Lanka, most of them Sinhalese, are collecting goods and money for the internally displaced people from the North,” Japan’s special peace envoy Yasushi Akashi told a news conference in Colombo last night. “I hope this spirit of harmony and friendship will prevail in the future.”

However, he said that life “still rough and tough” for the newly arrived IDPs and conditions could be and should be better. Hopefully there would be positive co-corporation between the government and the various UN and other agencies in archiving this objective.

He hoped the LTTE “will change its attitude” and let the remaining civilians in rebel-held areas move out and the government will live by its stated objective of zero civilians casualties in the combat areas. 

President Rajapaksa with whom the Japanese visitor had a two and a half hour breakfast meeting attached great importance to the position that the solution to the problem was not military but political and was firmly committed to ensuring that all people of the country could live together in friendship and harmony. 

Akashi who concluded a crowded two-day visit which included meetings with president, prime minister, foreign minister and opposition leader, wrapped-up his 17th visit here as the Japanese government’s representative for peace-building, re-habilitation and reconstruction in Sri Lanka with the news conference.

He said that he was going back with fresh impressions of the rapidly evolving situation particularly of the internally displaced people in the North.

Then visiting diplomat also met with the defence secretary and Mr. Basi Rajapaksa during his stay here.

He had “very fruitful discussions” including with representatives of the TNA, UN agencies including UNHCR, the ICRC, representatives of the cochairs and India and visited to the Menik Farm in Vavuniya.

Conditions there were “less desirable” due to the understandable reason of the rapid influx of refugees in the last two weeks than what had prevail in another camp he visited during his previous visit to Sri Lanka in January, he said.

The people in the camps were not completely happy and satisfied with conditions and wanted to get back to their homes as quickly as possible. The government hope to complete resettlement of 80% of the IDPs in their home villages or in more permanent accommodation by December although landmines were a constraint.

 People who had been longer in these facilities were growing vegetable for their consumption on their own plots of land and he saw women busy on sewing machines and children at their studies. But there had been dissatisfaction about conditions-food, the adequacy of water supply etc, among some of the people he spoke to. But the government was trying very hard and was committed to marking thing better despite limited resources.

 Answering a question on the ground situation, he said there were reports of firing “but I don’t think any of us know from where the firing was coming.” There was no way of establishing the veracity of the various reports received. He hoped the government will remains faithful to its policy of restraint and would restrict itself to self-defence and absolutely necessary action for humanitarian reasons. 

 Responding to a question on the future of the co-chairs, a grouping that emerged at the Tokyo conference of 2003 which the LTTE had regrettably boycotted, he said. There was some difference of views between the members of the group (Japan, Norway, US and European Union with India invited to participate at meetings) But their objective was the same-peace in Sri Lanka.

 While some believed that more assistance should be granted when there is more progress towards peace and the reverse of less assistance while progress was less, Japan stood firm on the stand that the poor people of Sri Lanka should not be deprived of development assistance due to failures which were not of their making.
(Courtesy: Sunday Island)