by Gotabaya Rajapaksa
(Text of Keynote address by Defence and Urban development secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa at opening ceremony of Defence Seminar – 2012′, at the Galadari Hotel, Colombo on August 8th 2012)
It gives me great pleasure to address the Opening Ceremony of the Defence Seminar 2012. This is the second successive year in which the Defence Seminar is being organised by the Sri Lanka Army.
On behalf of the Government, I take great pleasure in warmly welcoming to Sri Lanka all of the distinguished delegates who have come from many countries around the world to attend this event.
The theme selected for this year’s seminar is “Towards Lasting Peace and Stability”. Under this topic, Sri Lanka’s post conflict efforts on Reconstruction, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconciliation will be discussed. This is both appropriate and timely.
Last year’s Defence Seminar focused on how the defeat of terrorism in Sri Lanka was accomplished. As Sri Lanka enjoys its third year of peace and stability after the defeat of terrorism, the great progress that has been accomplished here is similarly worthy of study.
Sri Lanka today is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world. It is a country in the midst of a national revival. How this transformation has been achieved is at the heart of this seminar. During the course of these three days, all of the participants will have the opportunity to learn about the strategies adopted by the Government of Sri Lanka in addressing its post conflict development challenges. I particularly encourage the foreign delegates to make full use of their time here to interact with and learn from the people who were instrumental in our post-war efforts. I am confident you will learn a great deal of value from their experiences.
The war in Sri Lanka ended on the 18th of May 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the LTTE. The LTTE was one of the most vicious terrorist organisations in the world, and was once described by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as being “among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world”. Its defeat was greeted with an immediate and unprecedented outpouring of relief and joy throughout the country. However, at the same time, the Government was deeply aware of the grave challenges and responsibilities it faced in the war’s aftermath.
-Demining needed to be carried out over approximately 5,000 square kilometres of land
-Reconstruction had to take place in the former LTTE controlled areas
-Nearly 300,000 internally displaced people needed to be Resettled
-Close to 12,000 surrendered LTTE cadres had to be Rehabilitated and then Reintegrated
-Normalcy had to be restored throughout the land; and
-Measures had to be taken to foster national Reconciliation and economic development.
-Normalcy had to be restored throughout the land; and
-Measures had to be taken to foster national Reconciliation and economic development.
The Government of Sri Lanka has achieved remarkable progress on all these fronts during a remarkably short span of three years. During the course of this address, I will briefly discuss each of these post war challenges and outline the ways in which they were dealt with.
The most pressing issue that needed to be addressed was ensuring the wellbeing of the civilians who had been displaced from their homes. As the war progressed, the LTTE moved people out of their towns and villages and retreated to its strongholds near the North Eastern coasts. By the time the war ended with the LTTE’s defeat, 295,873 internally displaced people were left in the Government’s care.
They could not return home because their towns and villages were no longer safe for human occupation. As it retreated, the LTTE had laid large quantities of antitank mines, antipersonnel mines, and many different types of Improvised Explosive Devices in the areas it left behind. Demining those areas swiftly and resettling the internally displaced was a significant challenge for the state.
In total, it was suspected that mines had been laid in more than five thousand square kilometres of land. Demining such a vast area was a very difficult challenge that the Government unhesitatingly undertook immediately after the war ended. Many foreign organisations came forward to assist the Government, including the Danish Demining Group, the Indian Sarvatra Group and the Horizon Group, the UK based Mines Advisory Group and several others.
These groups took on the responsibility of demining various identified tracts of land throughout the North and East. The Sri Lanka Army was given the responsibility of demining the largest area of land, which comprised almost 1,500 square kilometres and included most of the densely mined regions.
The entire demining programme was carefully planned and executed. Priority areas were chosen to maximise efficiency and enable the speedy return of the internally displaced. The first priority was to demine the towns and villages. The second priority was to demine the agricultural areas and paddy fields.
The last priority was to clear the forested areas. I am pleased to note that as of today; nearly all of the two main priority areas that were identified for demining have been cleared. Work only continues in a few areas where the concentration of mines is at its highest. Many of these areas are places where heavy fighting took place during the last stages of the war. It is expected that these areas too will be completely cleared in the very near future.
The scale of the problem the Government faced in demining can be clearly seen from the number of mines and other devices unearthed and neutralised during the demining process.
As at end June 2012, 469,275 antipersonnel mines, 1,399 anti-tank mines, and 388,963 unexploded ordnance devices had been recovered. It is because of the number of mines and IEDs laid by the LTTE was so very large that demining in some areas continues to this day.
Alongside the demining process, Reconstruction was expedited in each area that was cleared of mines and rendered safe. As a result of LTTE action and long neglect, many of the houses, business premises, Government offices, schools, hospitals, other facilities and infrastructure were in need of significant repair and improvement. Despite the Government’s continuous provision of utilities and services, LTTE dominance had prevented long term development from taking place in these areas for nearly three decades.
As such, the existing facilities and infrastructure were quite poor before the Humanitarian Operation was launched in 2006. After the dawn of peace in May 2009, bringing these towns and villages to a level on par with the rest of the country was a key concern of the Government.
The renovation of houses and construction of new housing units was one of the Government’s first priorities in terms of reconstruction. The Army has been involved in several programmes to renovate damaged houses and construct new ones.
Under a grant sponsored by the Government of India, 43,000 new houses will also be constructed in these regions. The pilot project for this programme was launched in 2010, and 1,000 houses have already been built and handed over to the beneficiaries. Through the on-going programmes, the housing stock in the North will be greatly increased and improved over the next few years.
Infrastructure development was another key concern. Almost immediately after the war ended, His Excellency the President appointed a Presidential Task Force for Reconstruction and Resettlement in the North to expedite work in these areas. The Government also launched a programme entitled “Northern Spring” to undertake large development projects in the North.
A similar programme called “Eastern Dawn”, had already been launched in the East even while the Humanitarian Operation was still underway. Infrastructure development, electricity, water supply and sanitation, agriculture, irrigation, livestock development, inland fisheries, health, solid waste disposal, education, sports, cultural affairs and transportation were all areas addressed under these two programmes.
A team of officials was appointed to each District to identify and direct the necessary activities. Essential infrastructure, including access roads, minor tanks, public buildings, hospitals, schools, were upgraded quickly in order to facilitate speedy resettlement. With the completion of these priority projects, attention turned to larger undertakings. The development of the road network throughout the North was expedited.
Several important bridges were built. The restoration of railway infrastructure was also a priority, since this had been destroyed by the LTTE and had ceased functioning in 1990. Repairing this infrastructure was critical. The railway track from Omanthai to Pallai is scheduled to be completed by September 2013, and the track from Pallai to Kankasanthurai is expected to be completed by June 2014.
The track from Medawachchiya to Madhu is scheduled for completion in March 2013, and the remainder from Madhu to Talaimannar is expected to be complete by September 2013. Township development, including improved administrative facilities for enhanced delivery of state services, is also taking place in all districts.
Much of the irrigation infrastructure, including canals and tanks, was restored early on to revive agriculture and farming, while major programmes to upgrade drinking water supply and sanitation are also underway. Through expedited electrification programmes, many areas that did not have power before have begun to benefit from electricity.
The restoration of most of the 1,000 schools that functioned in the North is another significant achievement, as are the steps being taken to improve healthcare through construction of new facilities and upgrading of old hospitals. In addition to the infrastructure and facilities being built by the Government, I am pleased to note that a large number of private sector organisations have set up operations in the North, including financial institutions.
The role played by the military in the reconstruction activities just described deserves to be highlighted. For many of the projects undertaken, especially those begun soon after the end of the war, the military provided engineering expertise, construction plant and equipment, as well as much of the necessary manpower.
While state owned institutions such as the State Engineering Corporation and the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau undertook several responsibilities, and while many private sector and foreign organisations won contracts for certain projects, the fact remains that the military was essential in facilitating the reconstruction activities. At the same time, it also helped facilitate several other important functions, including supporting the care of the internally displaced.
While demining and reconstruction activities were going on, the displaced civilians were housed at Welfare Villages set up by the Government. There were five Welfare Villages in all: four in the Vavuniya District, including Manik Farm, and one in Mannar. Each Welfare Village was divided into blocks of shelters.
The shelters were provided with electricity, and each block had separate kitchens, toilets, bathing areas and child friendly spaces. Special priority was given for public areas and for the conduct of recreational activities. Provision of water exceeded World Health Organisation requirements, and all sanitation facilitates were maintained to a good standard.
Food and nutrition was a particular area of concern. During the initial stages, cooked food packets were distributed to the IDPs, but within a couple of weeks, community kitchens were set up in each residential block. Basic rations were issued free of charge. In addition to what was provided by the Government, significant assistance was provided by the UN organisations, foreign countries, NGOs, civil society organisations and the general public.
Cooperative outlets and markets were established, and many IDPs also started individual businesses within the Villages. State sector and private sector banks established outlets inside the villages, and post offices and communication centres were also set up.
Extensive healthcare facilities and sufficient medical supplies were provided in all the Welfare Villages. A Directorate of IDP Healthcare was established under the Ministry of Health, and medical officers were appointed to be in charge of each Welfare Village. Other health workers, including nurses, pharmacists and public health officials worked under their guidance. Each Welfare Village had a Primary Health Care Centre and a well equipped Referral Hospital.
As a result of all the care taken at the Welfare Villages, the IDPs soon recovered from the ill health they had suffered while with the LTTE. Between May and June 2009, the crude mortality rate fell from 0.7 per 10,000 per day to 0.5 per 10,000 per day, which is the threshold rate for South East Asia. By July 2009, it had settled at 0.15 per 10,000 per day, which is the threshold rate for Sri Lanka.
Special facilities for psychiatric care, including support for individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, were provided within the Welfare Villages. Psychosocial support, including counselling programmes, was provided.
Many efforts were taken to promote religious, spiritual and cultural activities, and places of worship such as Kovils, Churches and Mosques were established through community consultation, with special facilities being provided for all clergy. Community centres and common areas were built for adults, and young adults were provided with career counselling.
Vocational training centres were also established in each Welfare Village for capacity building and empowerment. IDPs were assisted in setting up home businesses. Special public administration services were provided, including facilities to reconstruct legal documents and issue temporary Identity Cards.
‘Happiness Centres’ were established for children, and various activities including art, music, drama, yoga and sports were conducted. Schools were established from Grade 1 to 11 in all the Welfare Villages, with special Advanced Level classes being conducted at Kadirgamar Village.
The internally displaced remained in the welfare camps only for as long as it took to demine their places of origin and reconstruct necessary infrastructure to facilitate their resettlement. Under the speedy resettlement programme launched by the Government soon after the war, a significant number of the IDPs were resettled in their homes. By the end of July 2012, just three years after the end of the war, the Government has successfully resettled 237,672 IDPs. A further 28,398 have chosen to live with host families in various parts of the country.
It should be noted that 7,185 had left the IDP camps on various grounds and did not return, while a further 1,380 sought admission to hospitals and did not return after treatment. 802 IDPs died due to natural causes during the time they were awaiting to be resettled. Only 5,424 individuals from 1,597 families remain in the last functioning Welfare Village.
These IDPs are from areas that have the highest concentration of mines, which have taken a little longer than expected to render safe. The Government intends to complete the resettlement of all IDPs by the middle of this month. Resettling nearly 300,000 internally displaced people in just three years is a very significant accomplishment. It would not have been possible without the professionalism and commitment of the military, which facilitated almost all the major undertakings involved.
Apart from the IDPs, the Government faced another major challenge with regard to Rehabilitating the large numbers of LTTE cadres who surrendered or were detained during the course of the Humanitarian Operation. A total of 11,989 LTTE combatants surrendered to the military during the Humanitarian Operation. These cadres were categorised according to their known level of involvement in LTTE activities, and treated separately. The Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation was established to oversee the their rehabilitation and reintegration.
A ‘six plus one’ rehabilitation process model was adopted for the beneficiaries of the rehabilitation programme. This process rested on six pillars; namely Spiritual, Religious and Cultural Activities, Vocational & Livelihood activities, Psychological & Creative Therapies, Sports & Extracurricular Activities, Sociocultural Activities and Education.
Community awareness programmes were also conducted, and efforts taken to sensitise the public to the needs of the beneficiaries so that they would be more receptive to their reintegration.
Particular attention was given to the 594 child soldiers who surrendered. A special rehabilitation programme was organised for them, with assistance from UNICEF. These programmes were carried out at the Child Protection Centre in Poonthottam and the Hindu College Ratmalana.
Much effort was taken to provide proper counselling for these child beneficiaries. Special spiritual development activities and positive values cultivation programmes were conducted for them.
Formal education was provided, with classes being conducted for more than 200 students between Grade 8 and Grade 11, and 65 students in the Advanced Level sections. Several 6 month long vocational training programmes were also conducted in subjects including information technology, aesthetics, carpentry, masonry, beauty culture etcetera. The child beneficiaries were reunited with their families within one year, although 74 came back to Hindu College Ratmalana to continue the education programmes they had been following.
The adult beneficiaries of rehabilitation were initially housed in 22 Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres maintained by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. All of the centres were built to a good standard.
It is important to stress the fact that several International agencies and Non Governmental Organisations such as the IOM and UNICEF were given free and unfettered access to the rehabilitation centres. So too were diplomats, media personnel, lawyers, and the family members of the beneficiaries. Special leave was also granted to many of the beneficiaries to visit their families, and attend religious and cultural activities at home from time to time.
All beneficiaries underwent extensive programmes that were designed to equip them with the ability to return to normal life in society. Spiritual, religious and cultural rehabilitation programmes were also conducted, with an intention to reacquaint the beneficiaries with cultural and family norms.
Psychological and creative therapy rehabilitation was provided, including group counselling and therapy sessions, aesthetics and drama therapy programmes. Beneficiaries were also encouraged to take part in various sports activities.
Special training and periodic refresher training was provided to centre administrators on how to provide psychological first aid and counselling. The counselling programme was designed in partnership with the Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition, Ministry of Social Services and Social Welfare, and many Non Governmental Organisations engaged in the field.
This was intended to correct the mind-set of the ex-combatants and affect attitudinal change. Much effort was taken to enable them to develop their personalities as individuals.
A lot of attention was paid to the reunification of families, with married ex-combatants being given the opportunity to re-join their spouses, children and parents at special rehabilitation centres called ‘Peace Villages’. This enabled many beneficiaries to continue their rehabilitation without any disruption to their family life.
A mass marriage ceremony was held in June 2010, where 53 ex-combatant couples were formally given in marriage with the consent of their parents and families. The marriages were conducted per religious customs and traditions, and many parents and well-wishers attended the ceremony. A special Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centre was established at Kaithady in Jaffna to cater to the reunification of married beneficiaries as well.
A special programme for ‘catch up education’ was provided in collaboration with the Education Department for young adults who opted for the programme. Under this, 361 students sat for the GCE Advanced Level examination in 2010.
222 of these students passed this exam. In 2011, 304 students sat for the Advanced Level examination, of whom 43 became eligible for university admission. 166 students sat for the GCE Ordinary Level examination in 2010, of whom 91 passed, and 77 students sat for the same exam in 2011.
46 different vocational training courses were also provided to the beneficiaries of the rehabilitation programme.
The courses involved many sectors, including agriculture, industry, services and entrepreneurship. Substantial opportunities were provided for training information technology, with assistance from private sector implementation partners, and a computer lab was set up with the capacity to train approximately 100 persons at a given time.
A number of programmes were created to support beneficiaries who wished to set up their own businesses, with courses being conducted on self-employment, entrepreneurship and micro enterprise development. A special loan scheme for self-employment was also launched. It is important to note that steps have also been taken to recruit a large number of these rehabilitated ex-LTTE combatants to the Civil Defence Force. They will be used for development activities in their areas of residence.
The Reintegration of the rehabilitees to society took place only after trained counsellors assessed their preparedness to adapt to society and resume normal lives.
Reintegration programmes were conducted at various stages, including a large ceremony that was held at Temple Trees in September 2011 in the presence of His Excellency the President. In all, 10,965 rehabilitees have been reintegrated to society as of now. 121 were released in 2009; 5,227 were reintegrated in 2010 and 5,027 were reintegrated last year. So far this year, 590 beneficiaries of the rehabilitation programme have been reintegrated to society.
Only 636 beneficiaries still remain in rehabilitation, at four centres located at Maramadu, Welikanda, Kandakadu and Poonthottam.
These rehabilitees are not yet ready to be reintegrated to society, and require more time to recover from the LTTE’s indoctrination and regain full capability to lead normal lives.
It should be noted that a further 383 ex-combatants who were in the rehabilitation programme have been identified and detained for further investigations and legal action. It should also be mentioned that many of the LTTE cadres who were detained during the course of the war have also been sent for rehabilitation, with only the cadres most involved in LTTE activities being selected for prosecution.
The primary focus of the rehabilitation and reintegration programme was to equip the former LTTE cadres with alternative means to a meaningful existence. It was felt that the best way to deradicalise these individuals was by granting them the chance to become productive members of society who had no reason to feel marginalised or insignificant.
A preliminary report on research conducted about the rehabilitation programme by Dr. Kruglanski and Dr. Gelfland of the University of Maryland, College Park, in the USA, has indicated that even hard-core ex-LTTE cadres have undergone a significant reduction in their support for violence.
The more the beneficiaries built up a rapport with the staff members and guards at the rehabilitation centres, the less likely they were to support the violence they believed in while they were with the LTTE.
These findings are not only very encouraging from the point of view of restoring normalcy in Sri Lanka, but they also vindicate the approach adopted by the Government towards rehabilitation and reintegration. This approach has been extremely generous.
Most of these cadres who were beneficiaries of rehabilitation and reintegration were involved in attacks against Armed Forces personnel on the field of battle. Some may have also participated in atrocities against civilians. As a result, the normal response by the state would have been to keep them in detention and prosecute them. Indeed, this has been the practice in most post-conflict situations.
However, His Excellency the President had a very different view.
Instead of prosecuting the majority of the cadres, he insisted that they be rehabilitated and reintegrated to society as fast as possible. He understood that these former cadres had been misled by the LTTE, and that they needed an opportunity to be guided onto the correct path.
As a result of this vision, the vast majority of cadres were rehabilitated and released to society in just two years. That is a truly remarkable achievement. Nowhere else in the world have enemy combatants been treated with such generosity and rehabilitated at such speed. The sincere commitment of His Excellency the President and the Government of Sri Lanka to reconciliation can be gauged through this fact.
Considering the indisputable progress that has been achieved on demining, Reconstruction, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Reintegration, Reconciliation has become the only issue on which those who wish to criticise Sri Lanka can dwell.
Yet this too is an unfounded criticism. Over the past three years, a great deal of work has been done to improve the opportunities and access to state services of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, caste, or place of origin. The focus has been to empower all sections of our society, and most particularly those who were under the LTTE for so many years, so that they can fully benefit from the dividends of peace.
Restoring normalcy to the North and East as quickly as possible after the dawn of peace was an essential first step in this regard. Disarming the Armed Groups that had stood against the LTTE in these areas during the war was very important.
Members of groups such as the EPDP, EPRLF, PLOTE and TMVP had carried arms for self-protection against LTTE attacks. After the LTTE’s defeat, and the full re-establishment of Government control in those areas, immediate steps were taken to disarm these groups. Their members were encouraged to pursue democratic activities. Many of them are now involved in mainstream politics, and some are involved in other peaceful social activities.
Another essential step was the removal of the various restrictions that used to be in place as a result of the conflict. There were restrictions on travel to the North, including restrictions on foreigners, media personnel and both foreign and local Non Governmental Organisations. Since the dawn of peace these restrictions were progressively curtailed.
As of today, there are absolutely no restrictions on travel. Instead, there is complete freedom of movement for all people in the North. The complete removal of restrictions that had been imposed on various items was also important. During the war, the transport of certain items was restricted for fear that they would be used by the LTTE in offensive operations. As of today, these restrictions no longer exist.
The restoration of the freedom of movement has been a tremendous boost not only to the North, but to all the people of Sri Lanka.
Large numbers of local tourists travel from the North to the South and from the South to the North on a daily basis. Large numbers of visitors from abroad have also come to Sri Lanka over the past three years. Since July 2011, more than 51,400 foreign passport holders from over 100 countries have visited Sri Lanka and travelled to the North, including nearly 31,500 this year alone.
A considerable number of them were expatriates visiting their ancestral homes and properties and their relatives in Sri Lanka. This is a testament to the freedom that exists throughout this country. It is in stark contrast to the situation that prevailed while the LTTE continued to pose a threat.
Many restrictions also used to be in place at sea due to the grave threat posed by the LTTE’s Sea Tiger wing. This section of the LTTE launched attacks on our Naval assets after infiltrating sensitive areas in the guise of civilian fishing boats. As a result, restrictions were introduced on fishing not only in the seas off the North and East but throughout the country’s entire coastline. These included limitations on the times and the locations in which fishermen could put to sea as well as restrictions on the size of their fishing craft and the power of their outboard motors.
All these restrictions were removed in phases after the end of the Humanitarian Operation. Restrictions on the times at which fishing could take place were gradually phased out between June 2009 and February 2010. The remaining restrictions, including those on the power of outboard motors, were removed by October 2011. Restrictions on fishing near critical harbours have also been greatly reduced.
In terms of restricted areas on ground, the High Security Zones in the North have been removed over the last two years. In five stages between October 2010 and November 2011, much of the area covered under the High Security Zone near the Palaly Cantonment was released, with lands in seventeen Grama Niladhari divisions being fully handed back to civilians. The Palaly cantonment is now the only area in which some security restrictions remain, but even within the Cantonment, civilians have free access to the airport and the Kankasanthurai harbour.
While it is true that there are still some civilian properties within the Cantonment, it must be stressed that civilians have not occupied these properties for the last twenty to twenty-five years. The Government has taken measures to pay compensation to the owners of these properties and to provide alternate lands to them. It should also be noted that lands that had been forcefully taken from the people and occupied by the LTTE for many years have also been released to their legal owners.
In addition to the reduction in the extent of the High Security Zone, the reduction in the numbers of security barricades, roadblocks and checkpoints in the North and East is also significant. There were large numbers of such security measures in place during the course of the conflict and immediately after, but these were gradually withdrawn after the dawn of peace. In 2009, there were approximately 2,000 checkpoints, sentry points and roadblocks in these two Provinces. Today, there are hardly any.
The number of troops deployed and the number of camps remaining in the North and East has also been reduced to a bare minimum. 28 battalions that were in the North have been relocated to the South and the East. The overall number of troops in the North has also reduced by more than 21,000 since 2009. Troops will remain in strategic locations for security purposes, but their presence will be non-intrusive. The day-to-day maintenance of law and order has already been handed over to the Police.
Concurrently, the capabilities of the Police Department to carry out these duties have been significantly improved. Eleven new police stations have been established in areas where they had not been allowed to exist while the LTTE dominated territory in the North and East. 789 Tamil policemen have been recruited between 2009 and 2011, and they have been trained and posted to these police stations. In 2012 alone, a further 425 have been recruited. Training in Tamil language has also been provided to additional numbers of police personnel.
The restoration of democratic elections in the North and East not long after the end of the war is another act of which the Government is very proud. Provincial Council elections were held in the Eastern Province even before the Humanitarian Operation had ended, and Local Authority elections were held for the Jaffna Municipal Council and Vavuniya Urban Council as early as August 2009. A Presidential Election and General Election were both held throughout the country in 2010. Local authority elections held island-wide last year saw free and fair elections being throughout the North and East.
In the areas formerly dominated by the LTTE, people exercised their franchise without fear for the first time in three decades. The Tamil National Alliance emerged first in most electorates, but the main Government party also came close in several of them. The fact that political plurality has returned to these areas is clear from the results of these elections. The swift restoration of democracy and the right to vote in those areas previously under LTTE dominance is very significant.
Further, it needs to be noted that many former militants are now playing an active role in politics. The LTTE’s one time Eastern Province Commander, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, also known as Karuna Amman, is a junior Cabinet Minister. A former LTTE child soldier, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, also known as Pillayan, is the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province.
A number of former LTTE cadres have also become Chairmen of local government bodies. Their participation in the political process demonstrates the robustness of Sri Lanka’s democracy.
With the restoration of normalcy through all the measures discussed above, the most fundamental requirement of the people in the North and East is the opportunity to build a better life for themselves.
That is why, as was described before, the Government focused so much attention on the infrastructure and services needed to facilitate the return of economic life in these areas. A great deal of work has been done to facilitate the resumption of livelihoods amongst the people in the North. Financial assistance as well as assistance in kind has been provided to farmers, fishermen and small business owners. Several such programmes have already yielded excellent results.
In this context, I am particularly pleased to note that a great deal of work has been done by the military to help the civilians. The Army has renovated more than 6,000 houses and constructed nearly 7,000 new permanent or semi-permanent houses for the civilians being resettled. It has constructed 19 schools, created 23 school playgrounds, and renovated more than 55 old school buildings. Assistance has also been provided through the provision of fishing gear, utilities for farming and provision of livestock and seeds for agriculture.
Medical clinics are held from time to time, and assistance is provided for the conduct of religious, cultural and other festivals. During this critical period, as the newly resettled people are finding their feet, the role played by the military in assisting the civilians has helped our Armed Services win their hearts and minds.
As the people of the North and East resume their day-to-day lives in a peaceful and stable Sri Lanka, they do so with fully restored democratic freedoms, greatly improved standards of living and with unrestricted opportunities to make a better future for themselves. I have every confidence that as a result of the many beneficial developments that have taken place since the end of the war, there will be no space for the re-emergence of our previous problems.
Sri Lanka’s journey during the three years since the dawn of peace has seen the country transform itself from a nation at war to a country that is amongst the most peaceful, stable and secure in the world. The unwavering commitment and resolve of the Government to swiftly implement measures for Reconstruction, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconciliation has laid the foundation for a prosperous future for all our citizens, irrespective of their diversity and differences.
I have every confidence that as we step forward into this brighter future, we will do so together as Sri Lankans. That is the greatest accolade that can be paid to the success of Sri Lanka’s post-conflict development; that will be our legacy to future generations.