South Asia: Rehabilitation and Reconstruction in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka

Dr. Thusitha Tennakoon

Secretary General Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL)


Sri Lanka was able to comprehensively defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that had been designated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as one of the deadliest and formidable terrorist groups in the world taking into account its activities locally and as well as internationally on fund raising, narcotic trafficking, human smuggling, arms procurement, money laundering, etc, in addition to the most ruthless terrorist warfare, including suicide attacks. It was the one and only terrorist group in the world to have acquired Sea and Air capabilities that posed a huge security threat to Sri Lanka as well as India and the Indian Ocean. The armed separatist movement which devastated the fabric of the Sri Lankan society and the contours of democratic institutions/practices over a period of three decades came to a definite end in May 2009. The success of Sri Lanka in defeating the terrorist and the separatist movement had not been viewed as a victory over one segment of the society or a territory, but as an essential step towards regaining peace and stability to unify the country for achieving reconciliation and welfare of the citizenry across the board.

It is well recognized that the absence of armed conflict does not necessarily reflect that the peace and long-term stability have been reached automatically and simultaneously. In order to achieve long-term stability, durable peace and long lasting reconciliation, it is sine-qua-non that a combination of factors should be assimilated and put in practice with renewed vigor for inclusive and balanced development.

The rehabilitation and reconstruction is one of the pivotal ingredients in the difficult and complex process of reconciliation.

The approach:

Although, the experiences gained by other conflict situations elsewhere in the world provide certain guidelines, there is no universally recognized and accepted formula or role-model of post conflict initiatives and approaches that could be applied to Sri Lankan post-conflict scenario. The conflict in Sri Lanka not only spanned over long period of time but also was deeply-rooted in each and every sphere of the Sri Lankan society compelling the policy makers to develop its own model for rehabilitation and reconstruction. The Sri Lankan conflict was extremely violent (e.g. LTTE suicide missions), protracted and costly both in terms of human and physical destruction. Hence, the model has to be unique though the ingredients, tools and the thrust areas covered in the exercise are somewhat common. The success of any reconstruction and rehabilitation model largely depends on as to how the exercises is owned, formulated and driven by national actors and stakeholders.

The term “post-conflict” denote multiple meanings including political nuances that form an important segment of the holistic approach of rehabilitation and reconstruction process. Addressing post-conflict issues relating to economic sphere aimed at reducing the major factors of conflict recurrence by formulating and implementing economic policies that are sensitive to issues of inequities should assume high priority. Furthermore, targeting most affected areas in the Northern and Eastern Regions and more particularly focusing on most vulnerable groups such as women and children and effectively addressing humanitarian issues naturally become a vital part of the exercise. The major policy thrust of post-conflict scenario should be aimed at addressing poverty which is one of the major causes for conflict as much as the poverty becomes inevitable as a consequence of conflict. In this regards, the policy practitioners identified three areas relating to nexus between poverty and conflict, namely: conflict and loss of public entitlements (a breakdown of public order and public infrastructure), conflict and loss of livelihood entailment (withdrawal of land and labor from production and loss of markets) and conflict and loss of civil / social entitlement (destruction of social capital such as institutions, values and social networks due to displacement).

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) & Re-settlement:

During entire period of the conflict and particularly at the last stages of hostilities between Govt. Forces & the terrorists, a large number of Internally Displaced persons (IDPs) were liberated from the clutches of LTTE. They were provided with immediate relief measures and humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, other main facilities such as schools, religious supports, temporary banks, shops and communication facilities were also provided at the welfare villages’ setup for the IDPs. The government incurred LKR 3.5 Billion towards this cost (The Annual Report, 2010, Ministry of Finance & Planning, Sri Lanka).

Simultaneous efforts were made to clear the landmines and other unexploded ordinances (UXOs) and to repair the road, irrigation, power and telecommunications infrastructure.

The first phase of the resettlement concentrated on providing immediate humanitarian assistance required for returning IDPs. This was achieved through the provision of a package consisting of cash disbursements and various other supports such as: food rations, non-food relief items, medicine, shelter material, agriculture assistance and a cash grant for land preparation (ibid). A special programme with the participation of members of the tri-forces was implemented to ensure access to essential commodities. Provision of livelihood assistance to create income generating activities by way of inputs, equipment & support services in the fields of agriculture, livestock and fisheries formed the second phase of the process. In this phase, assistance was also provided to revamp the defunct business enterprises and to start micro/small scale industries with the intervention of various line-ministries, the private sector, reputed INGOs and Foreign Governments. The much needed ‘soft assistance’ to support the returnees to fully access their rights as citizens of Sri Lanka including capacity building interventions addressing local administrative and judicial mechanisms related to land ownership, missing documentation, family reunification, protection of women and children, services for elderly and disabled individuals, and similar matters have also been addressed in the second phase. It is noteworthy here that the local Government elections for North and East were held in July 2011. In the third phase, mega-scale projects on socioeconomic development vis-à-vis job/wealth creation, health & education, multi-model transport & ICT infrastructure development have been initiated.

At the end of the armed-conflict, there were around 295,136 new IDPs (There are two major caseloads of displaced people in Sri Lanka. Those recently displaced or ‘new’ IDPs refer to those displaced after April 2008, and the ‘old’ or protracted caseload refers to those displaced prior to April 2008. Note that the total population returned to their districts of origin includes returns from both categories of IDP).

By end September 2011, a total of 384,401 people (112,592 families) were resettled in the Northern Province. As of September 2011, 7,534 new IDPs (2,308 families) 8,013 old IDPs (2,279 families) old IDPs remained in welfare centers (Joint Humanitarian and Early Recovery Update, September 2011, Report # 36 complied by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

Their resettlement in the areas in Mullaitivu and Killinochchi Districts is delayed as they are located in High Security Zones (HSZs).

The above figures achieved in less than 30 months demonstrate the success of efforts by GOSL in addressing the post-conflict re-settlement issue. This model, focused on livelihood & economic development targeting long-term poverty reduction while addressing the immediate humanitarian needs, sets a good example for post-conflict development.

Socio-Economic Development:

The immediate challenge at the end of conflict was the creation of a mine free environment in the conflict affected areas, particularly in Killinochchi and Mannar which were contaminated with estimated 1.3 Million lands mines, UXOs, and improvised explosives. Sri Lanka has made steady progress in demining activity by clearing almost 500 sq. km for resettlement of IDPs (The Annual Report, 2010, Ministry of Finance & Planning, Sri Lanka).The De-mining activity entails a high cost and high risk. It is also a time consuming and painstaking process. At present about 60% of land have been cleared by spending Rs 3.7 Billion. A large number of international Organizations have assisted Sri Lanka in this task. The clearing of explosive devices allowed the farmers to cultivate their lands with subsidiary crops and paddy.

Another major problem encountered by the policy practitioners and the security establishments is to find the pragmatic balance between maintaining security/ ensuring protection for the civilian vs. relaxation of certain security measures imposed during the height of the conflict. The restrictions on Fisheries Industry on ‘No Fishing Areas’ and the use of high-powered motor boat engines have been relaxed. The loan facilities for purchasing of boats, equipment and fishing gear were provided through Credit Grantee Scheme. The development of the fisheries industry is particularly significant in view of the fact that the N&E accounted for 2/3 of total national fish production involving about 30,000 households in the resettled areas. Some of the High Security Zones (HSZs) have also been removed by allowing inhabitants to return to their original places of living. The physical connectivity between North and Eastern Regions and the rest of the country was largely confined to the sea and air links during the conflict. The road links are now re-established by restoring A-9 main surface road and other sub-roads. The travel restrictions enforced were gradually removed. At present anyone can travel freely on the A-9 to and from the former conflict affected area making freedom of movement for goods, services and people a reality. This has helped develop market linkages. The above measures have largely contributed towards economic resurgent, employment creation and livelihood development in the Northern and Eastern Region.

The resettlement and rehabilitation activities in the Northern Province were complemented by a full- fledged development initiative to reconstruct social and economic infrastructure that have been devastated due to the conflict. It includes short, medium and long term projects aiming at creating an environment conducive for a decent, peaceful and active life for people in the area with intra and inter- province connectivity. These include the rehabilitation and rebuilding of road & rail network, highways, housing facilities, water supply, irrigation schemes, sewage/garbage disposal systems, hospitals, school buildings, other administrative buildings, bridges & culverts, electricity facilities, livelihood support structures, community facilities, vocational training and industrial zones to restart industries. The government has launched 21 large scale projects with a total investment of Rs. 95 billion of which the investment in 2010 alone was about Rs. 27 billion (from 2006-2010 the total investment in North and East provinces is Rs. 183 billion). (The Annual Report, 2010, Ministry of Finance & Planning, Sri Lanka). Most of these projects will be completed between 2011-2013. The ongoing and proposed investment will contribute to the acceleration of the economic growth of the Northern Province as was experienced in the Eastern province after its liberation in 2007.

In the sphere of long term development drive, the government embarked on two ambitious and targeted programmes, namely “Eastern Rising” and “Northern Spring” as long term strategies for poverty reduction and socio-economic development in the war ravaged areas. Especial attention was also paid to N&E under the national programmes such as “Maga Naguma” (Road Development), “Gama Naguma” (Village Development), “Gami Diriya” (Village Strengthening) and one million backyard household economy development plan.

Consequent to the conflict, the civil society movement and the institutional framework have been destructed and the social capital suffered a heavy blow. Other extension services provided by the government were not operating at their full potential. The Civil Administration Institutions have now been re-established to provide development assistance to the populace. The law and order maintaining institutions such as police and functioning judicial system were reactivated. Financial institutions from both public and private sector were resuscitated. In order to look after victims of conflict particularly female headed household, orphans and disabled, a proper social safety network along with operational institutions from both public and NGOs have been re-introduced to the society.

Rehabilitation of Ex-combatants and conflict affected youth:

At the end of the armed conflict, there were 11,664 youngsters who confessed to involvement with the LTTE, majority of them on forced conscription. Sri Lanka implemented a multifaceted and multiagency rehabilitation program involving both custodial and community rehabilitation aimed at opening their eyes, minds and hearts for reintegrating into the society. Sri Lankan government adopted an approach to rebuild their lives through spiritual and religious, educational and vocational, psychosocial, recreational, social and family and creative arts in rehabilitation ( With the reintegration of 367 rehabilitees with the society on Oct. 25, 2011, the process of rehabilitation of youngsters is complete with in 2 years with the exception of -1000 who have received Court orders for rehabilitation who will have to spend an additional year in the rehabilitation centers.

The FCCISL CHEER (Chamber-Network Engagement in Economic Rehabilitation) project, funded by the EU under its EU-ACAP Programme —(European Union Assistance for Conflict Affected People) and implemented by OXFAM also provided 500 rehabilitees with vocational training in construction field related skills and competencies. The training included masonry, carpentry, plumbing, industrial & house wiring, welding and 3-D drafting. A group of 30 female ex-combatants consisting were provided training leading to certificate in building painting. After the training they were provided with a tool kit to encourage them to persuade their choice of employment. This, perhaps, is the first time in the world history that a business chamber was engaged in vocational training of ex-combatants.

The government agencies, private sector and NGO/lNGOs offered numerous soft and/or technical skills capacity building and training programmes for war affected youth, especially women and war-widows.

Soldiers as Nation-builders:

The total strength of the tri-forces (army, navy and air force) stands at 280,000. ( of them are battle hardened fighters. Changing the mindset of the fighters who were accustomed to combat operations was a challenging task. Sri Lanka achieved this by fully engaging them in humanitarian missions and rehabilitation/reconstruction operations in the North and East. It was the members of the tri-forces who received the huge surge of IDPs liberated from LTTE controlled areas. They provided immediate relief and care to the IDPs thus fulfilling an essential prerequisite of the ‘hearts and minds’ operation. It was the members of the tri-forces who repaired the damaged road/irrigation network and other infrastructure facilities. They did a commendable job in clearing land mines and other un-exploded devices in preparation of land for re-settlement. They were involved in help maintaining the civil administration for the returning IDPs and went to the extent of running small boutiques to ensure easy access to basic commodities. While they were pre-occupied with welfare of the conflict affected populace, they were engaged in tailor-made trauma control exercises, meditation, religious observances and various training programmes including Tamil language training to adapt to peaceful environs.

Involvement of the Private Sector:

As the apex body of Sri Lanka’s business sector, the FCCISL contributed for the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in 5 districts in the North & East through its CHEER project. Main objective of this segment of CHEER project is to assist returning IDPs to initiate & run sustainable livelihood activities. FCCISL used innovative SMILE Model (Sustainable, Market-driven, Integrated & Linked Enterprises) to achieve this purpose. The model deviates from traditional welfare support and does not involve donation of cash or material or even micro-credit. Instead, it helps farmers/producers to start-up demand driven (or market-oriented) enterprises by connecting them with suitable value chains. Buy-back agreements, through a competitive bidding process, are facilitated and the material and technological inputs are arranged from within the value chain as well as the dedicated state agencies. The financial support is facilitated through formal financial service providers, Commercial banks and Micro finance organizations in a competitive bidding environment, thus averting IDPs from informal borrowings. The risk involved in credit facilitation is minimized through facilitation of insurance. Moreover, the project seeks to start-up intermediary and final processing enterprises in the value chain, owned by the farmer/producer organizations themselves.

The returning IDPs are also provided with business/financial planning and management skills development training programmes with a view to transforming them to entrepreneurs than been just farmers/producers forever. The Farmer & Producer organizations are formed and are connected to FCCISL through its District Chamber Network to strengthen the collective voice. District Enterprise Forums (DEFs), between Government Agencies and representatives of Farmer/Producer organizations, are convened to find redress to immediate problems that hinder the progress of enterprises. The residual issues are taken up with the relevant line ministries at national level by FCCISL.

At present, this model is being used in 5 districts in the North & East for paddy, market gardening, subsidiary field crops and dairy sector targeting to benefit 35,000 households in 3 years. However, this model is suitable for any produce not only in Sri Lanka but also any country in South Asia.

Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC):

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was established in August 2010, with 8 independent eminent persons being appointed to the commission, to support the drive towards national unity and reconciliation after decades of division. The Commission is part of an ambitious and wider package of measures taken by the Sri Lankan government to drive the process of reconciliation and create the basis for a stable, prosperous future. (

 The interim report of the LLRC ( 3466/Interim-Report-of-LLRC-to-Sri-Lankan-Government) submitted to H.E. the President, highlights five areas for prompt action vis-à-vis (i) Detention (ii) Land Issues (iii) Law and Order (iv) Administration and Language Issues and (v) Socio Economic and Livelihood Issues. The Commission has now concluded its hearings and the final report is due in mid-November 2011.


Sri Lanka has made strident progress in the spheres of immediate humanitarian assistance to IDPs, demining & rehabilitation of infrastructure, resettlement of IDPs, rehabilitation of ex-combatants, transforming a fighting force to nation builders, livelihood development, restoration of law & order and democratic institutions/instruments and initiatives of long-term economic development projects. The progress so far is achieved under difficult and complex environment and with limited resources available. Hence, much more work is to be done. Still, the N&E provinces remain at low levels in the economic density map of Sri Lanka. The public sector service delivery system and the working language issue desire further improvement. Certain discontentment is observed among the populace due to slow delivery of services and inherent corrupt practices in the administration. Although Local Government Elections were held and peoples’ representatives have been elected for the grass root level of management, a fully fledged political reconciliation has not been realized. In order to build public confidence in the democratic institutions and fair play by upholding of Rule of Law become an essential element in any post-conflict society. The role of the Diaspora is extremely important in the Sri Lankan context as the Diaspora has the capacity to accelerate the peace building and reconciliation process.

Each and every post-conflict reconciliation process has its unique characteristics thus requiring a unique solution. Sri Lanka is no exception in this regard. Developing infrastructure and building institutions and providing inputs for economic activities alone do not achieve long lasting peace and durable reconciliation. It is equally important to capture the hearts and minds of the people and eradicate the root causes and address those issues resolutely to assure recurrence of such unfortunate conflict will never occur in Sri Lanka. It is in this regards that the International Community, especially the Governments in South Asia, has an obligation towards working with the Sri Lankan Government while sharing the lessons learnt on not only rehabilitation and reconciliation but also on counter insurgency strategy and practices.

# Paper submitted by the author at a Kathmandu seminar organized jointly by Center for South Asian Studies, CSAS, and Konrad Adeneur Stiftung, KAS, November 7, 2011. Published with the permission of the author in the larger interest/information of the South Asian population.

Thanks the author and the organizers specially the CSAS.

#The author is the Secretary General of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL). However, the views expressed in this article are the opinions of his own and do not necessarily reflect the standpoint of FCCISL.

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  • Posted on - 2011-11-17    by     Justice
  • Government supporters mislead the world: 1.Sri Lanka is NOT in a post-conflict situation: Learning from Japan to build a culture of peace, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, 14 November 2011: ''When the war ended in May 2009, it was the worst that was over, but the ethnic conflict that spans more than five decades is not yet over. ....'' 2.IDPs were detained in severely overcrowded camps with severely restricted access for aid agents: Red Cross forced to suspend aid to civilians in Sri Lankan former war zone, 20 May 2009: ‘’The Red Cross today suspended delivery of supplies to displaced civilians after the Sri Lankan government blocked access to camps in northern Sri Lanka.’’ S Lanka camp young 'malnourished', 28 June 2009: The high rate of malnutrition reported among children in camps for displaced people in Sri Lanka is a cause for concern, a senior UN official says. 3.IDPs were only released from the camps and they had to return to transition camps or nearly completely destroyed villages: Which government refuses UN help for IDPs ''saved from the clutches of terrorists''? No funds to meet needs of nearly 200,000 Northern IDPs due to govt refusal to endorse 2010 action plan, 13 March 2010: ''The funding crisis follows the government’s refusal to endorse the 2010 Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP)…. The UN and other humanitarian agencies are running out of resources to meet the urgent needs of internally displaced persons in the North. ...'' 4.Reports continue to come of abduction and rape first in the camps and then in villages which are higly militarised. It's in the last few months journalists are allowed into the Northeast. 5.Most livelihood work is taken up by the military and IDPs returning to their villages are mostly unemployed. 6.Elections for the Northern Provincial Council is not yet held but Sinhalese are settled with the help of the army and the navy along the coastal areas and main roads. IDPs are dumped in jungles.
  • Posted on - 2011-11-17    by     Peace
  • No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri Lanka, Report by Minority Rights Group International, 19 January 2011: With the end of the conflict between Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE or ‘Tamil Tigers’) in 2009, normality has returned for much of the population of Sri Lanka. But for members of the country’s two main minority groups – Tamils and Muslims – living in the north and east of the country, harsh material conditions, economic marginalisation, and militarism remain prevalent. Drawing on interviews with activists, religious and political leaders, and ordinary people living in these areas of the country, MRG found a picture very much at odds with the official image of peace and prosperity following the end of armed conflict. .... In light of the findings of this report MRG calls on the government of Sri Lanka to respect the economic, cultural and political rights of minorities living in Sri Lanka and to ensure that they gain from post-conflict reconstruction and development projects in the areas where they live. Failure to do so may have long-term repercussions for peace and stability in the country. .... The UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues should be granted an invitation by the government to visit the country in order to report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the situation of minorities in Sri Lanka.’’ (UN Special Rapporteurs for i. Extrajudicial Killings, ii. Enforced Disappearances and iii. Freedom of Opinion and Expression have also been waiting for years to visit Sri Lanka.)
  • Posted on - 2011-11-17    by     Vino Gamage
  • Conscientious have spoken to LLRC: Jayantha Dhanapala’s written submission to Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission(LLRC), August 2010: ‘’The lessons we have to learn go back to the past – certainly from the time that we had responsibility for our own governance on 4 February 1948 . Each and every Government which held office from 1948 till the present bear culpability for the failure to achieve good governance, national unity and a framework of peace, stability and economic development in which all ethnic, religious and other groups could live in security and equality. Our inability to manage our own internal affairs has led to foreign intervention but more seriously has led to the taking of arms by a desperate group of our citizens’’. (Dhanapala is a Sinhalese and was formerly UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament) Oral submission, Jayantha Dhanapala to LLRC, 25 August 2010:’’I think we need to rectify this bad governance and the first and foremost task before us is to undertake constitutional reform in order to ensure that we have adequate devolution of power. We have already missed several opportunities in the past; we have had an APRC functioning for quite some time but its report is still languishing in obscurity and needs to be presented to the public of Sri Lanka for discussion. We need to have State reform; we need to have rule of law established; we need to ensure non discrimination amongst our citizens; we need to have devolution of power and a tolerance of dissent and a strengthening of democratic institutions.’’