MANGALA CONFRONTS WAR LEGACY, PLEDGES ECONOMIC RELIEF

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Still campaigning against disappearances : Minister Mangala Samaraweera a long time disappearances activist, made an impromptu stop at a protest by families of the disappeared in Kilinochchi yesterday, appealing to them to end their demonstration and seek assistance at the newly established Office of Missing Persons. The families who have been protesting in a tent by the roadside for over a year, thanked the Minister but refused to end their demonstration (Pic: Rukmal Gamage)

On a three-day visit to the Northern Province, the Finance Minister made a stop in Puthukudiyirippu, where the civil war came to its brutal close in May 2009.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera visited Puthukudiyirippu in the Mullaitivu District yesterday, where the LTTE and Government forces waged the final controversial battles in Sri Lanka’s 26 year civil war, confronting the brutal legacy of conflict and offering livelihood support and economic relief for war-affected communities.

Samaraweera, who is on a three day visit to the Northern Province to raise awareness about provisions made for rehabilitation and debt-relief in his 2018 budget met some 40 women’s groups at the Puthukudiyirippu Divisional Secretariat.

The Finance Minister, who made a historic high-level visit to the war-devastated region, said that Puthukudiyirippu had borne the brunt of the final stages of the war, and was one of the last areas where families were resettled after the end of the conflict in 2009. There were approximately 7000 women headed households in the area, Samaraweera said.

“Going by the Divisional Secretary numbers submitted, I can very well understand the problems you are all facing here. There are 2,045 female-headed households, 438 war widows, 156 orphans, 707 disabled and 957 rehabilitated youth here which explains the gravity of the situation,” Minister Samaraweera said.

The tears of northern mothers and mothers in the south were the same and no less important, the Finance Minister who has been …an ardent advocate for reconciliation and post-conflict healing in his Government said. “We must live in harmony in this country as equal citizens,” Samaraweera urged.

Attired casually in a cotton shirt and pants, Minister Samaraweera held meetings in Jaffna on Friday (30) and spent yesterday visiting and interacting with communities in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. Stopping for breakfast at the Ammachi traditional food outlet in Kilinochchi, manned exclusively by war-affected women, he interacted and laughed with staff at the restaurant.

Making an unscheduled stop in Kilinochchi on his way back from Mullaitivu, Minister Samaraweera, a disappearances campaigner since the 1980s, visited families of the disappeared who have been protesting in tents on the roadside for over a year now, urging them to return to their homes and seek the assistance of the Office of Missing Persons to determine the whereabouts of their loved ones. The families thanked the Minister for his visit, but explained to him that promises made to them had been broken many times before.

The visit was part of the Minister’s Budget Implementation Program, where

he announced a series of measures by the Government to improve livelihoods and alleviate crushing indebtedness in vulnerable war affected communities in the region.

Women’s groups in the area told the Finance Minister about long-standing issues the community faced in the aftermath of the conflict at a vibrant discussion at the Secretariat last afternoon.

“We are very pleased that you are the first Finance Minister to visit these most peripheral areas of the North enormously affected by the war. In this area, over 7,000 women headed households have different necessities, issues and challenges,” Divisional Secretariat of Mullaitivu said initiating the discussion.

Women’s representatives urged Minister Samaraweera not to discriminate against woman headed households, predominant in the war-affected provinces.

Concessionary schemes should be available for all, the representatives said.

“The shells targeting us from all quarters did not discriminate by sex or whether it is a single or multiple member family. Due to the war, there are many disabled males in families so it is important to not isolate them by stipulating criteria,” a woman’s group representative urged.

The women told Minister Samaraweera that a slew of microfinance institutions in the region had affected several families resulting in indebtedness. Participants in the discussion also appealed for the setting up of a state-owned garment factory to assist females which will be in addition to the privately run factory that already employs around 2,500 persons.

There were Women’s Affairs Societies functioning in 19 villages in Puthukuduyirippu, the representatives said, putting an idea across to the Minister that if the Government could channel a loan scheme through the community organisations, the credit could be directed to where it was needed.

Responding to the livelihood concerns faced by the community, the Minister asserted that the grant of a six month moratorium on loans and the launch of the Enterprise Sri Lanka program in May 2018 will help usher in a new era.

“With the moratorium in effect, when you take out a new loan, you don’t have to pay interest or capital of your loan for a period of six months. In addition, the Enterprise Sri Lanka scheme will provide you concessionary loans at a maximum rate of 6.75% per annum. Women who want to engage in businesses will be provided an additional 10% concession on interest,” the Minister noted.

The Minister also met with Farmers and Fisheries Federation at District Secretariat – Mullaitivu where there were calls to rebuild the Kokkullai and the Nandikadal Bridges as a priority in the next Budget. Concluding his visit in the North today, Minister Samaraweera will visit the Myliddy fishing harbour, which was vacated by the Navy and open for fisheries activities last year after a gap of 27 years.

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