4/28/2017

Reminiscences of Manik Farm

කතෘ:යුතුකම     4/28/2017   No comments

Manik Farm

By Dr Palitha Kohona
Former Foreign Secretary and
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN

Not many had heard of Manik Farm prior to the end of 2008. Perhaps not even up to the beginning of 2009. Then it rose to prominence, both nationally and internationally, as thousands of internally displaced persons (IDP), mostly innocent victims of the terrorist inspired conflict, poured in to it. At one point, it housed over 250,000 displaced men, women and children.

Manik Farm soon became converted to a battle ground by extension. On the one hand, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa sought to demonstrate that it genuinely wanted to care for the IDPs by providing them with basic amenities, and on the other, the Western NGO community, the Western media and certain Western Governments under pressure from well resourced and politically influential Tamil expatriate groups, cynically twisting every available fact for propaganda purposes, sought to brand Manik Farm as a giant concentration camp. The Western missions in Colombo, playing to a tune dictated by their capitals and lapping up the propaganda of the Western NGO community, highlighted the concentration camp image and as a place designed to detain Tamil IDPs indefinitely. Very little practical assistance to alleviate the misery of the IDPs was provided by them as they played politics with their lives. Thus in 2009, instead of being recognised as a facility to provide basic care to a large concentration of displaced humanity, essentially the victims of the LTTEs bloody minded military strategy, it became the propaganda battle ground between the government on the one side and the Western media and the NGOs on the other, not to mention certain Western Governments acting under pressure from the LTTE lobby groups.

There was no doubt in the mind of the government about its own motives. Manik Farm, close to Vavuniya, was constructed to meet the needs of the unprecedented flood of IDPs in a controlled environment. As has been proved in the years that followed, it was never intended to be permanent as the UN and others, in particular the Western media, alleged. The effect of keeping in a camp, thousands of disaffected and desperate people for any length of time, including many former LTTE combatants, was obvious to the government. That would have been a tailor made environment for further radicalisation. The government clearly wanted to avoid this and, looking to win the hearts and minds of the displaced Tamils, knew that they had to be sent back home as soon as feasible. In fact, the government made a commitment to the Indian Government, that the bulk of the IDPs would be returned to their villages and towns in six months.

The Menik Farm facility was equipped with basic requirements. First the shelters were constructed of cadjan. Later, the government imported large tents from China. The paths were paved. Communal kitchens were established and water and sanitation facilities were supplied. The Government even had two separate sets of kitchens to cater to the still sensitive caste differences among the camp occupants. Despite whispered allegations of a lack of sanitation and water by the Western NGOs, who always appear to thrive on human misery, to their disappointment, there were no epidemics or diseases. The maintenance of basic health standards was a credit to the state funded Sri Lankan health services. Manik Farm was a far cry from the familiar UN run IDP camps elsewhere in the world that one sees regularly on TV. So much so that the Sri Lankan mission to the UN offered to assist in building and managing better camps for the 28 million displaced world wide at the time.

Rumours continued and were lapped up by the Western media. The Government’s own inexperienced propaganda arms failed to counter the deluge of adverse publicity. The barbed wire fence around the camp came in for criticism as it restricted free movement. The IDP camps in many places around the world run by UN agencies and NGOs had no fences around them but human dignity was sadly lacking in them. The Government opted not to follow that model, where the distribution of food and water was haphazard, and children would wait for hours, sometimes for days, for water only for a passing truck to fling limited numbers of bottles at them. Attacks from locals were common and abuse by militias, sometimes by the UN’s own peacekeepers, was not unusual. The barbed wire fence at Manik Farm prevented entry in to the camp by outsiders for whatever reason, theft was minimised, the guards ensured that camp inhabitants stayed in unless given a pass, food was distributed methodically, piped water was made available and schooling was resumed for the children under the guidance of teachers who were among the displaced. The fence prevented hardened LTTE combatants from slipping back in to the jungle to regroup. Water and sanitation facilities were provided in a methodical manner. The small plastic tents provided by the UN became like ovens in the mid day heat and the toilettes constructed by the UN, deliberately kept shallow to avoid permanency, flooded after the first shower. The Chinese tents provided by the Government were much in demand.

Another good reason for not running an open camp was the need to avoid the IDPS from decimating the surrounding forests for firewood. The sensitive dry zone forest and the fauna in the area were saved in the process. Environmental degradation went hand with IDP camps elsewhere in the world.

There were fundamental difficulties in returning the IDPs to their own homes any time soon as the retreating LTTE had mined the abandoned villages and access roads. It takes, on average, less than three minutes to lay a mine but months and years to remove them. Fortunately, today much of the mines have been safely removed, largely due to the efforts of the Sri Lankan army sappers. Another important reason for the inability of the IDPs to return to their own homes, was the devious strategy employed by the LTTE as it abandoned village after village and town after town and retreated to its final beach head in Mullaitivu. They removed the roofs of the houses. The metal roofing sheets were melted to produce pellets for their Improvised Explosive Devises. Very soon, in the tropical heat, the jungle was reclaiming the houses.

At the beginning the numbers streaming in to Manik Farm caught the government off balance. Very little credit has been given, seven years later in the frenzy to find war criminals and violators of human rights, to the thousands of Sinhalese, especially Buddhist monks, who went from door to door to collect provisions to be sent by the lorry load to respond to the urgent and essential needs of the IDPs. Soldiers gave their rations to the IDPs. I recall ringing CEOs of major companies in Colombo to ask if they had water bowsers to spare to bring water to Manik Farm. Many responded positively. Very quickly the water issue was solved by pumping water from the river.

Many diplomats in Colombo seemed to believe the line propagated by the Western NGOs and the Western media. It was never effectively countered by the Sri Lankan media. Simple human stories that tend to resonate with the liberal mindset as opposed to blatant and unconvincing propaganda were missing.

Soon a procession of high powered Western dignitaries began visiting Sri Lanka demanding to see Manik Farm, some wanting to prove to themselves that their own propaganda was true. David Miliband, the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (nicknamed the pram man by the English media for billing the public purse to purchase a pram for his child) and Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, were quick to drop in with a request to visit Manik Farm. Their effort to rope in the Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, backfired as Sri Lanka (unwisely) refused to issue him a visa. With this inauspicious beginning, the visit got off to a bad start with David Miliband’s efforts to talk down to the Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, being cut short with a curt, "Mr Miliband, I don’t tell you how to run your country. You should not insist on telling me how to run mine".

I accompanied the two of them to Menik Farm by helicopter to save time. On the way it was clear to me that Miliband was totally convinced that Menik Farm was an insanitary hell surrounded by barbed wire with trigger happy soldiers guarding it. He seemed to imagine the same conditions as those in the concentration camps that the British invented during the Boer War in South Africa and used with such brutal efficacy during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya and the Communist insurrection in Malaya. As we came in to land, I took great delight in pointing out the miles of barbed wire festooned with multi coloured washing of the camp dwellers. Obviously, to the surprise of my wards, these IDPs had sufficient water even to wash their clothes.

Mr Miliband was clearly unhappy and restless. Although we had planned to spend a couple of hours walking around the camp, to my surprise, he sent me a message through his PA after about half an hour that he preferred to return to Colombo and he required a helicopter for the purpose. There was no way that we could have produced a helicopter for the grumpy Secretary of State. I told the PA that poor Sri Lanka did not have any helicopters to spare but offered to provide a car for the trip to Colombo which would take at least eight hours. He was not a happy camper.

We set off by helicopter, as originally planned, at around 3 PM. The helicopter was still gaining altitude and just a few hundred meters from the Menik Farm fence, when I noticed a herd of frolicking wild elephants below - another risk the IDPs would have confronted had the fence not been there. Kouchner was all excited to see the elephants but Miliband who was totally grumpy refused to even look out of the window. The visit to President Rajapaksa’s retreat at Weeravila that followed did not contribute to improving Miliband’s mood. Especially when Rajapaksa firmly reminded the inexperienced and brash Secretary of State that Sri Lanka was not any more a British colony.

That evening at a reception held at Mt Lavinia Hotel, Kouchner loudly asked the Russian Ambassador whether Russia would support a UN enquiry in to war crimes in Sri Lanka. "Sure" replied the Ambassador, "but only after you have agreed to a UN enquiry in to NATO crimes in Afghanistan". As the other guests burst in to laughter, Kouchner adroitly changed the subject.

Soon thereafter, UN SG Ban Ki moon, under pressure from the West, sent USG Sir John Homes to visit Manik Farm. I accompanied him also. On arrival, he started walking briskly perhaps with the intention of getting away from me and other local officials and meeting some camp residents on his own. I suspected this and let him stride off alone but kept him within eyesight. At one point he entered a large Chinese made tent and was confronted by a buxom lady surrounded by many children. Sir John wanted to know whether she was happy at Menik Farm. She beamed and responded, "I am happy. My children are safe. They are not being dragged in to jungle camps for military training. They go to school now. We have enough food to eat well". As we walked out, we could see a helicopter distributing packeted food items to the camp dwellers.

I must say, that Sir John’s report to the SG was fair.
[Island - 21st April]

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-ලසන්ත වික්‍රමසිංහ "බිල්ලො ඇවිත්" - යුතුකම සම්මන්ත්‍රණය ගම්පහ 1505 2005 සහ 2015 2009 විජයග්‍රහණය 2015 BBS Budget cepaepa ETCA GENEVA NGO NJC Operation Double Edge Political S. අකුරුගොඩ SITP ඉන්දු ලංකා ඊළාම් ඊළාම්වාදී ඒකීය ඕමාරේ කස්‌සප චින්තනය ජනාධිපතිවරණය ජනිත් විපුලගුණ ජනිත් සෙනෙවිරත්න ජයග්‍රහණය ජයන්ත චන්ද්‍රසිරි ජයන්ත මීගස්වත්ත ජවිපෙ ජාතික ආරක්‍ෂාව සාම්පූර් ජාතික එකමුතුව ජාතික ඒකාබද්ධ කමිටුව ජාතික බලවේග ජාතිකවාදය ජාතිය ජිනීවා ජිනීවා යෝජනා ජීවන්ත ජයතිස්ස ඩිහාන් කීරියවත්ත තාරක ගල්පාය තිවංක අමරකෝන් තිවංක පුස්සේවෙල තිස්‌ස තී‍්‍ර රෝද රථ ත්‍රිකුණාමල නාවික හමුදා මූලස්‌ථානය ත්‍රිකුණාමලය ත්‍රීකුණාමලයේ ආනන්ද දකුණු අප‍්‍රිකානු දර්ශන කස්තුරිරත්න දර්ශන යූ මල්ලිකගේ දසුන් තාරක දහතුන දිනාගනිමුද දිවයින දුලන්ජන් විජේසිංහ දෙමුහුම් අධිකරණය දේවක එස්. ජයසූරිය දේවපුරගේ දිලාන් ජාලිය දේශපාලන ධනේෂ් විසුම්පෙරුම ධර්මන් වික්‍රමරත්න නලින් නලින් ද සිල්වා නලින් සුබසිංහ නලින් සුභසිංහ නලින්ද කරුණාරත්න නලින්ද සිල්වා නසරිස්‌තානය නාමල් උඩලමත්ත නාරද බලගොල්ල නාලක ගොඩගේවා නාවික හමුදා කඳවුර නිදහස නිදහස් අධ්‍යාපනය නිර්මල කොතලාවල නිර්මාල් රංජිත් දේවසිරි නිසංසලා රත්නායක නීතිඥ කණිෂ්ක විතාරණ නීතිඥ සංජීව වීරවික‍්‍රම නීල කුමාර නාකන්දල නෝනිස් පරණගම වාර්තාව පාවා දීම පාවාදෙමුද පැවිදි හඬ පුනර්ජි දඹොරගම පූජ්‍ය ඇල්ලේ ගුණවංශ හිමි පූජ්‍ය බෙංගමුවේ නාලක හිමි පූජ්‍ය මැදගම ධම්මාන්නද හිමි පොඩි මෑන් ගේ සමයං පොත් ප්‍රකාශකයන් පොදු අපේක්‍ෂයා ප්‍රකාශ් වැල්හේන ප්‍රදීප් විජේරත්න ප්‍රසංග සිගේරා බණ්ඩාර දසනායක බම්බුව බලු කතා බිල්ලො ඇවිත් බුදු දහම බෙංගමුවේ නාලක බෙංගමුවේ නාලක හිමි බෙදුම්වාදය බෙදුම්වාදී බෞද්ධයා භාෂාව මතීෂ චාමර අමරසේකර මතුගම සෙනවිරුවන් මනෝඡ් අබයදීර මනෝහර ද සිල්වා මනෝහර සිල්වා මරක්කල මහ නාහිමි මහාචාර්ය ජී. එච්. පීරිස් මහාචාර්යය ගාමිණි සමරනායක මහින්ද මහින්ද පතිරණ මහින්ද රනිල් මහිම් සූරියබණ්ඩාර මාදුළුවාවේ සෝභිත හිමි මානව හිමිකම් මාමිනියාවේ ඒ. පී. බී. ඉලංගසිංහ මාලින්ද සෙනවිරත්න මැදගොඩ අභයතිස්ස නාහිමි මැදගොඩ අභයතිස්ස හිමි මිලේනියම් සිටි මුස්‌ලිම් මෙල්බර්න් අපි මෛත්‍රිපාල මොහාන් සමරනායක යටත්විජිතකරණය යටියන ප්‍රදිප් කුමාර යටියන ප්‍රදීප් කුමාර යුතුකම යුතුකම ප්‍රකාශන යුධ අපරාධ රණ විරුවා විජයග්‍රහණයේ දිනය විජේවීර වෙනස සැපද සංගීතය සජින් සභ්‍යත්ව රාජ්‍යය කරා සරච්චන්ද්‍ර සීපා හෙළ උරුමය

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