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#2974, 23 September 2009
Where is the “Northern Spring” in Sri Lanka?
N Manoharan
Senior Fellow, Centre for Land Warfare Studies
e-mail: mailtomanohar@gmail.com

The Sri Lankan government’s socio-economic and political plans for the island’s north are called “Northern Spring.” It has two broad aspects: ‘Triple R’ and elections.

Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction are the major components of ‘Triple R’. For this, the Rajapakse government had announced in June 2009 a “180 plan” to resettle the displaced, who number about 300,000. A Task Force has been set up to implement this plan. The process of implementation involves steps such as demining of areas meant for resettlement and reconstruction, building up of basic infrastructure like houses, roads, schools, energy grid, telecommunication etc. There are separate plans for the rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres especially child soldiers. Providing livelihood opportunities to all the resettled IDPs is yet another mammoth task before the government. The government finds lack of sufficient resources a the major challenge confronting its reconstruction plans. Initial estimates suggest that over US$ 2 billion will be required.

In addition to the government of Sri Lanka, three broad categories of actors are involved in the post-war reconstruction: inter-governmental organizations, state actors and local non-governmental organizations.

Inter-governmental organizations include the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the various organs of the United Nations like United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP) etc. The IMF has recently agreed to sanction US$2.5 billion to help revive post-war Sri Lankan economy. But, the aid comes with stringent human rights tag to which the Rajapakse government is averse to. Part of the aid will be used to fund the reconstruction programme. UNHCR and WFP are basically involved in the welfare of the IDPs.

Principal state actors assisting Sri Lanka in the Triple ‘R’ include India, China, Japan, Libya, Pakistan, Iran, the United States, and the European Union. Interestingly, Asian countries currently out number the West which had a predominance in such tasks earlier. India has recently provided INR 500 crores especially for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction for the displaced Tamils. In addition, the government of Tamil Nadu has provided INR 25 crores. A committee has been set up to oversee the expenditure of this sum. New Delhi has conveyed that it is willing to allocate more funds depending on future needs. Appreciably, there is political consensus in India on the present humanitarian aid. In addition to the monetary assistance, India has also sent 2,600 tonnes of galvanised corrugated steel sheets to Sri Lanka to construct shelter for approximately 5,000 families living in relief camps in northern Sri Lanka. The Indian Army had been running a temporary medical centre in the island’s northeast to treat those affected by the war. Four Indian demining teams have also been working tirelessly in sanitizing the conflict areas for resettlement. On request, four more teams have recently been inducted.

Being a time-tested friend of Sri Lanka, China is one of the major players. It has already provided one million dollars for the humanitarian needs. This apart, it gave tents meant for IDPs worth 20 million Renminbi. Japan, one of the principal donors to Sri Lanka, has pledged generous help for the Triple ‘R’. Libya has agreed to provide US$500 million and Iran has extended credit line for oil imports. These apart, a section of the Sri Lankan diaspora has come forward to invest in small and medium scale industries especially in the northeast. A number of local NGOs like Sarvodaya are also involved in the reconstruction process.

Politically, the government’s plan is to emulate the east - initially conduct elections to local bodies of Jaffna and Vavuniya and later for the whole of the Northern Province. In the polls that took place on 8 August 2009, the ruling UAPA won Jaffna Urban Council and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), considered a LTTE proxy, won Vavuniya Municipal Council. This was the first elections held in the Tamil-dominated areas after the formal end of ethnic war in the island. The elections signified that Tamils still nurture grievances and look forward to a responsible leadership. Polls for the entire Northern Province will take place only after the resettlement of all the displaced.

Overall, the “Northern Spring” strategy should be implemented more seriously. Presently, the living conditions of the IDPs are not up to the mark, although they are improving. The camps are overcrowded and there are dangers of flooding due to the upcoming monsoon season. Instead of being defensive, the government can accept the shortfalls frankly and try rectifying them in due course. Formation of local councils in Jaffna and Vavuniya is appreciable, but they should be entrusted with sufficient resources and autonomy. It is only after stabilizing these local bodies that the government should think of holding the Northern provincial elections instead of rushing them in haste.

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