Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: IDP situation, always a humanitarian issue - FM to BBC

The situation of IDP Tamils in Sri Lanka has been a humanitarian issue and will continue to be so. We want to see them go back home. That is our strategy and we want to see it happen.

This was Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama's response to BBC's South Asia presenter Nick Gowing in an interview on BBC World News last night (Dec 01).

Responding to repeated questions as to why these Tamil citizens have to register before leaving the relief centers, the Minister said registration was necessary because the relief centers are places of temporary shelter till such time as they leave to return home.

"We want to encourage more and more people to go back home," the Minister said.

In the midst of repeated interruptions by BBC's Gowing, the Minister recalled his earlier interview with the same presenter when the number of IDPs was 280,000, two or three months ago. "Today they have got down to 126,000. We have made over 150,000 leave within a very short period of time," the Minister said.

When asked why they have to register themselves or why they can't leave as they like to get fresh food, the Minister said "Fresh food is all around. At the same time they have to go back home. What we want to do is provide them more and more shelter. We have to have statistics to see they get the shelter they need. We have to have areas cleared in terms of landmines. And if we know where they want to go then we could facilitate it. These numbers will not be 126,000 by tomorrow it will be another three, four thousand less. Likewise they are reducing daily," he said.

"Right now you won't be able to pose any of these accusations if the numbers were at 286,000. Now the numbers are at 126,000. Numbers are receding on a daily basis. This is only a temporary situation. What we are looking at is in order to facilitate more and more shelter for our people, clear more and more areas for them to get back to. This morning I shared these concerns also what we are seeking with the international community and with some of my colleagues at the House of Commons." the Foreign Minister added.

The Minister responded to Gowing that international observers are free to visit relief centers. And even if there are any procedural issues and administrative details to be worked out we are happy to work on that.

Regarding hosting the 2013 CHOGM, which the presenter said was due to Human Rights concerns about Sri Lanka, the Minister said "reason being that we have been always looking at CHOGM in terms of when it is convenient. And the fact is that in 2007 we proposed 2011. And in terms of how the leaders were looking in fact there other takers in 2009. Australia will host the 2011 CHOGM and Mauritius will host the 2015 Summit.

"In fact it was the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who proposed Sri Lanka as the venue for 2013" the Minister said.

Here are some excerpts of the interview:

Q: There is a limit of 15 days and then those detainees could be tracked down not allowed to move around at their own will wherever they want to go for as long as they want.

A: Absolutely. We have allowed 156,000 to move. Let me get in terms of what I have to say. Right now you won't be able to pose any of these accusations if the numbers were at 286,000. Now the numbers are at 126,000. Numbers are receding on a daily basis. This is only a temporary situation. What we are looking at is in order to facilitate more and more shelter for our people, clear more and more areas for them to get back to. This morning I shared these concerns also what we are seeking with the international community with some of my colleagues at the House of Commons.

Q: There is a concern you are still wanting to control these Tamils, particularly in advance of the elections end of January, then it becomes a political issues not a humanitarian issue.

A: Not at all. All this time it had been a humanitarian issue and it will continue to be a humanitarian concern and that concern is expressed by the government more than anyone lese. We want to see people are back home. That is out strategy and we want to see it happens.

Q: Why aren't you allowing independent observers, like the BBC correspondent and many other international correspondent to check to see for themselves?

A: It is totally open to anyone. You can go tomorrow. There is no restriction that we imposed on anyone any journalist. And even if there are any procedural issues and administrative details to be worked out we are happy to work that on. Our President has gone on record allowing everybody to access these camps including some of the delegations coming from India, UN and other various organizations. During last three weeks we had all eminent visitors coming to Sri Lanka, couple of Foreign Ministers, UN Under-Secretary General John Holmes and the Indian Parliamentary delegation. They have said we are doing an admirable job in Sri Lanka. And that is the message that I want to get across.