from The Economist
Rebuilding, but at a cost
Aug 19th 2010 | Trincomalee
WEARING a crisp blue shirt, Kumaraswamy Nageswaran gestures dejectedly to a towering fence that keeps him from his village and his three acres of farmland on the Trincomalee coast.
Five years ago, as Tamil Tiger rebels fought desperately with the Sri Lankan army, thousands of families fled Sampur and adjoining villages. They returned in the six months to January this year, only to find themselves victims of post-war development plans.
Sampur fell within an area demarcated during the war as a “high-security zone”, in an effort to keep fighters from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at bay. The rebels were defeated in May 2009, but nearly 6,000 people still cannot get to their homes and lands, as the security zone remains in place.
Today, inside the fence, Sampur is being cleared for a 500MW coal-powered plant in a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka. Also planned are a jetty and a special economic zone. The government has started a construction spree. The short journey from Kinniya to Mutur still requires arduous travel over potholed tracks and three short trips by rudimentary ferries with spluttering outboard motors. But roads are being tarred and bridges will soon replace the tedious boat rides.
Along the way, towns and villages are limping back to life. Mutur, a predominantly Muslim township near to Sampur, was the site of a particularly bloody battle in 2006. Gradually it is lifting its head: new buildings, including a school, are rising; paint has been daubed on walls. With a bit more aid money, the recovery would move faster yet. Elsewhere in the district, officials have marked out vast stretches of pristine beach-front for tourist development and plush hotels.
The authorities say that land will be dished out through open tenders. But local leaders fear plots will instead be handed to henchmen of the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, most of whom come from the Sinhala-dominated south. Demands for preferential treatment for the inhabitants of Trincomalee, whether Tamil, Sinhala or Muslim, may fall on deaf ears.
Mr Nageswaran tries to organise locals, as the president of a welfare group for displaced people. The government has allocated them alternative land, he says, but it is poor, lacking decent soil or water for cultivation, and without the sea to fish in. Nobody asked them before making plans and they have no access to the “family that governs Sri Lanka” to explain their plight.
Ministers know what is happening. A soldier on the road to Mutur says government officials visit regularly, adding disgustedly that he is forced to salute the likes of Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, a former LTTE leader who is now deputy minister of resettlement, whereas “war heroes” like the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, languish in jail.
Mr Fonseka, the country’s only four-star general, led the war against the rebels. He was cashiered on August 13th after a court-martial convicted him on three counts of using “traitorous” words and of a failure “to obey garrison or other orders”. The stripping of his rank, medals and decorations was endorsed by the president, whom he had dared to challenge at an election in January.
A wider crackdown against the opposition seems to be under way. Also on August 13th two MPs from Mr Fonseka’s Democratic National Alliance were arrested during what they called a “pro-democracy” protest. Police wielding batons and firing tear gas charged the demonstrators. The country may be developing after the war, but democracy still looks frail. ~ courtesy: The Economist ~