Friday Forum, since its inception in 2009, has been profoundly disquieted about the post war scene in the Northern Province. A delegation of the Friday Forum visited Jaffna and Kilinochchi recently and met some members of the clergy of all religions, political leaders, academics and professionals, representatives of women’s groups and fisherfolk, and the office bearers of the Jaffna- Kilinochchi Muslim Federation. The delegation consisted of Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Daneshan Casie-Chetty, Savitri Goonesekere, Chandra Jayaratne, Tissa Jayatilaka, Ahilan Kadirgamar, Ranjini Obeysekera and Selvy Tiruchandran. Jayantha Dhanapala was unable to join at the last minute due to illness.
Despite efforts made by the Friday Forum, much to our regret the scheduled meeting with the Northern Province Governor, twice postponed at the request of the latter, did not take place. We thus missed the opportunity we sought to place before the Governor the concerns of Friday Forum related to the current scene in the North.
Encouraged as we have been by the holding of elections for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), Friday Forum is, however, perturbed by the hindrances that impede the proper functioning of the NPC. The integrity and commitment of Chief Minister Wigneswaran to work for the good of the people of the Northern Province, and indeed all of us in Sri Lanka, as well as his commitment to work towards post-war reconstruction and reconciliation in a united Sri Lanka that respects diversity and the rights of citizens of all communities, are, we feel, commendable. The delegation was struck by the re-iteration of the assurance given by the Chief Minister to direct his energies to a people-centred sustainable development of the Province, while safeguarding and ensuring the rule of law, justice and human security. It is the sincere hope of Friday Forum that the Governor and the President will extend their vital support and cooperation to the Chief Minister and the duly elected NPC by the provision of the requisite financial and administrative resources to enable the NPC to discharge its duties and responsibilities to the citizenry.
Our recent visit confirmed Friday Forum’s conviction that the under-mentioned issues are of critical importance. We hope that officials and civil society members of the North as well as outside will recognise these as such. The issues are the need for vocational training and development, especially in the rural areas, for generation of sustainable livelihoods. Women and youth in these areas should be given priority while at the same time rural cooperatives are strengthened;
a sustainable solution to the problems of the fisherfolk and Fisheries Cooperatives given the devastation of livelihoods of the people of the area by systematic incursions of Indian trawlers;
coming to grips with the consequences arising from the crisis of food security and malnutrition in the Northern Province, especially so within its more vulnerable and marginalised segment;
a resolution of land, housing and resettlement issues in a manner that recognises the legal rights of owners of private land, integrating a clear norm of equality and non-discrimination in the formulation and implementation of laws and policies on State lands. The difficulties of those who have lost relevant deeds and related documents need special redress. Allegations of land acquisition on the basis of a mere letter from military authorities should be investigated forthwith;
support for the proposals put forward by the Northern Province Task Force on Education. Academic specialists from other parts of the country and, if necessary, from abroad should evaluate these proposals and seek to arrive at a consensus. Such a carefully considered and distilled set of proposals could be a possible model for education reform in the island;
implementation of the rule of law and the addressing of complex problems relating to missing persons, detainees, women-headed households and children. In this regard, a significant increase in the number of police officers including women officers proficient in Tamil is crucial and urgent;
psycho-social counselling and, in certain contexts trauma counselling, for war-affected citizens of the Northern Province;
encouraging leaders of all religions in the Province to contribute more to the promotion of ethnic and inter-faith harmony;
addressing the impact of the all–pervasive militarisation on the normalisation of relations between citizen and state. Civil administration needs to be strengthened and the military withdrawn from non-military sectors such as agriculture and pre-school education confining it to such security matters as the police are unable to handle.
We hope in a future publication to offer more insights on the prevailing realities and the way forward towards national reconciliation and integration. It is the belief of the Friday Forum that a sincere and sustained commitment of all Sri Lankans to addressing the above issues will make a substantial contribution to the protection of the self-respect, dignity and wellbeing of our citizenry in the north, creating an environment of trust and confidence in post-war reconstruction and reconciliation.
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