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It's been 6 months since Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war ended, but for many of those who were displaced by the fighting, a chance to get back to normal life has been a long time coming.
Having waged a secessionist war against the Government of Sri Lanka for the nearly 3 decades, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, an insurgent group designated as terrorist by the United States and 31 other countries, finally surrendered on May 17th of this year.
According to the United Nations, the conflict cost upwards of 100,000 lives, while 274,000 people were internally displaced and living in government relief camps. And although the Sri Lankan government has pledged to get most of the displaced out of the camps by the end of the year, the going has been slow. Despite a significant acceleration of the release program in October, only about one third of the refugees have been allowed to go home, leaving some 163,000 people still interned in camps.
The United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, is one of many governmental and international organizations providing aid and support for Sri Lanka's Internally Displaced Persons, or IDPs. To help rehabilitate the war-torn Northeast, USAID is partnering with local businesses to rebuild Sri Lanka's infrastructure, help the government create jobs, and train at-risk youth, including former combatants. USAID recently launched a 2-year pilot program that will help as many as one thousand former fighters reintegrate into society by providing them with supplies and equipment to start their own small businesses.
"This project will play an important role in helping post-conflict communities return to normalcy by creating opportunities for former fighters to get the training and support they need to start new lives and build secure futures," said USAID Mission Director Rebecca Cohn. “With this support, these men and women have the chance to change their lives, set new goals, and dream new dreams."
The United States firmly believes that the rapid release and safe and voluntary return of all IDPs is a critical element of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We will look for additional ways to support the Government of Sri Lanka in this critical effort.