Army’s role in rebuilding the North

Since the end of the war in 2009, the Sri Lanka Army has played a significant role in the rebuilding, resettlement and reconciliation process, especially in the North. The most recent contribution by the Army to rebuilding efforts in the North, was the renovation and expansion of the Valavilkulam tank in Vadukkoddai in Jaffna. This tank, which supplied water to many agricultural fields of the area, had been abandoned and neglected for many years.

The Army took the initiative to expand and renovate the tank using Army labour following a request made by Dr. Sidambaran Mohan, the President of the ‘Friends of Jaffna’ Organisation and the Farmers’ Society of Vadukkoddai- Southwest, from the Commander, Security Forces - Jaffna, Major General Darshana Hettiarachchi. The completely renovated tank was handed over to the farming community in the area on Sunday, December 2. This is just the latest of the efforts taken by the Sri Lanka Army to assist the Northern people to get back on their feet after having suffered for almost 30 years of conflict.

Reaching into young minds

All Army chiefs who were in Jaffna including Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, who served as the Security Force Headquarters -Jaffna Commander, prior to being appointed as the Army Commander, had worked tirelessly to rebuild the North and assisted the people to get back to their normal lives. Major General Hettiarachchi since having taken over as the Jaffna Commander, had initiated many programmes for the war-afftected people of the North and has played an active role in assisting government officials in their rebuilding and other service projects.

Speaking to the Daily News, Jaffna Security Force Headquarters Commander Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi outlined the assistance rendered to the people by the military.

‘During the three decades of war in the North and East, properties and other infrastructure were severely damaged. As the Army, we have implemented and planned a number of projects to uplift the living standards of the people and also to assist children with their studies, with a view of guiding them through proper education. Hence, in one such endeavour, during the past years, we have awarded almost 500 scholarships to students who were selected from low income families of the area. We have also distributed approximately 550 bicycles among those students. We mainly focus on these schoolchildren because we feel that they are the ones that need to be educated as they can bring back the golden era of outstanding skills which they lost during the past 30 years. So, we wanted to target these schoolchildren and give them the opportunity to pursue their education with all the facilities. It is sometimes hard to change the mindset of the grown-ups, who tend to always look at such assistance with suspicion. These scholarships are provided especially by the Southern people of the country. Hence, with the assistance of the Southern people, we wish to create a bridge of friendship between them, dispelling all animosity and suspicion,’ he said. He hopes that one day these children from the North will remember the support given by the Southern people in their studies, while believing that this is a good step to foster reconciliation.

Helping the poor

Apart from helping students, the military has engaged in another project which constructs houses for homeless people with the assistance of the Southern people. Maj. Gen. Hettiarachchi said that, apart from the assistance in construction activities, they had planted 30,000 coconut saplings, during the past eight months, on lands occupied by the Army. In addition, 20,000 coconut saplings have been distributed among low income families as a supplementary income source for them.

‘Under our ongoing project, We have also planted about 15,000 native plants of the area in our reforestation drive. The Army is also engaged in a coast conservation project to protect the coasts in the Jaffna peninsula.’

Based on statistics of the Jaffna GA’s office, the Army has learnt that there are around 10,000 families in the district without proper sanitary facilities. The military intends to provide proper toilet facilities for the low income families in the North with donations from the South.

However, the Jaffna Commander pointed that the Tamil Diaspora is not involved in rebuilding the North and appealed to assist especially the students with their educational activities in order to help them come up in life.

With regard to the land issues in the North, Maj. Gen. Hettiarachchi said that during the last few years, they had released a considerable number of lands to their owners in the North and they will continue that process.

‘We will release the rest of the lands as well. We know that there are some people who have been living in welfare centres for over 28 years. The war ended in 2009 and still we have not been able to close down those welfare centres due to the land issues. Hence, we will try our best to release these lands to their owners without compromising on security. However, despite a presidential order to shift all military camps from occupied lands, the Army might need some time in order to put up required structures to facilitate our troops,’ he noted.

Contributions by the military

Meanwhile, Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray commenting on the assistance rendered by the military in carrying out reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation efforts in the North, said the sacrifices made by the security forces to end the war is a well-known fact.

‘Even after the war ended, the security forces are still sacrificing a lot in order to ensure the safety of the people in the North and even in their rebuilding efforts. As the Governor, I am very happy with the service they provide me in performing my duties and responsibilities. Their service is immense and immeasurable. The assistance given by the military in terms of uplifting living and economic standards of the people during disasters etc. is invaluable. The tri forces have proved that they are golden assets to me. They protect the land, sea and sky. Even the Navy renders a great service in preventing illegal drugs being brought into the country by the sea and they also work tirelessly to prevent illegal fishing taking place in the Northern seas.’

He noted that even when the people in this region fall sick and need blood transfusions for various illnesses, 90% of the blood donated to the Jaffna Hospital is by the security forces. The villagers hesitate to donate blood, but according to Buddhism, it is meritorious to donate one’s blood to a one in need.

Another issue in the reconstruction and development efforts in this region, is the lack of manpower and physical resources. In some instances, even contractors who take on these contracts abandon the projects halfway and leave. However, it is the military that comes forward and completes these constructions efficiently and quickly with low cost. ‘It is cheaper to get the military involved in construction as there is no labour cost involved because they provide the labour without any charge. In terms of housing projects, the military does a good job in constructing cheap and attractive, but solid houses and that is a boost to reconciliation as well.

The military helps the Northern people during their religious festivals. It is the military who draws the Veil chariot at the Mavattikulam Kovil festival as well. The military is also engaged in renovation and construction of kovils in the North under a special project. Further, the church in the Kachchathivu Island was completely renovated and reconstructed by the Navy. Even at private weddings and funerals of the northern villages, it is the army that helps them the most in numerous ways. Therefore, the people in this area are living in harmony with the military personnel.

The Jaffna Government Agent (GA) / District Secretary N. Vethanayahan noted that, after the end of the war, the reconstruction and resettlement activities have been expedited. “Many lands have also been released which was previously occupied by the military and they have assisted in the resettlement as well. Many housing projects have been initiated and displaced persons are being resettled. Main roads and other interior roads are being repaired and some new roads have been constructed. The North is developing very rapidly. The Army is very helpful in many ways in terms of reconstruction and they have done a great service in constructing houses for the displaced. Most recently, 135 houses were constructed in Nallanagapuram and Keerimalai. In addition to these houses, the Army is helping the people who are unable to construct their houses even in other areas. The Army is providing skilled and unskilled labour for the construction which is a very positive move and is a great step towards reconciliation.

In addition, the military is engaged in many social activities which provide assistance to schoolchildren with their educational activities. Some of these families find it hard to provide the facilities for their children to continue with schooling and the Army has stepped in and is assisting by providing scholarships and school equipment for these children.”

He also explained that the military had also rendered their assistance in dengue control programmes as well. “They also assist us in many environmental programmes and their services are very much needed during the times of disasters or environmental calamities. They are the first on site to assist. Whoever the Army Commander is, they are always ready to assist us in serving the people. In fact, they come forward and volunteer their services without waiting for our request.

In terms of housing projects, we initially offered the funds to the recipients to construct their houses, but they could not do it. At that time, we contacted the Army and they came forward to help us complete the construction of these houses. In fact, we provided Rs. 800,000 for the construction of a house and they were able to complete these houses only with the Army’s labour assistance.”

Whatever service the Jaffna people need, the GA said that as they have a good rapport with the military, they can readily call on the military for the assistance and they will never back off and will always be ready to assist.

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