Despair of One Displaced Village
by TamilNet, August 27, 2006
The experience of the residents of Vellaveli, a village in the eastern Batticaloa district, is a microcosm of that of over 200,000 people who have this year joined the hundreds of thousands of long-term displaced in the island. Driven from their homes by a Sri Lankan military offensive, the rice farming families face starvation and debt-riddled ruin.
Vellaveli village is 24 km southeast of Batticaloa town, in an area controlled by the Liberation Tigers.
Mandur village is located 3 km southeast of Vellaveli. It is controlled by the Sri Lankan armed forces.
In the early hours of Sunday August 13, troops of Sri Lanka’s elite Special Task Force (STF) attacked from Mandur. The commandos were supported by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) with artillery and mortar fire.
The hundreds of people sleeping in Vellaveli fled as shells exploded amongst their houses.
Many fled to the neighbouring village of Thumpankerny where they took refuge in the Tamil Mixed School.
“We were fast asleep with our four children. It must have been around 4:00 in the morning when we were awaken by the sound of a huge explosion,” said Mrs. Chandrakumary Kamalanathan.
“We realised that a military attack was underway. Shells were landing in our neighbourhood.” There was pandemonium everywhere.”
“We had no choice but to flee the area as soon as possible to save our lives. So we ran away, taking nothing from our home and came here to Thumpankerny,” she said.
“But we don’t feel safe here either. We are very frightened. We are staying together in large numbers. At any time shells might be fired or aerial bombing can take place. Therefore, we spend the night in our relatives or friends` houses away from this camp.”
“So far, we have not received any relief either from the government authorities or any NGOs except the TRO (Tamil Rehabilitation Organization ). The TRO gave us cooked meals as soon as we came here,” Mrs. Chandrakumary said.
“We have considered finding odd jobs around here so as to buy food, but in this uncertain situation, we are anxious about leaving the children behind and going out,” she said.
“When we left home, we did not bring any books of the children. They should be sitting for the G.C.E. O/L general examination in December. We are so sad they will lose their education also.”
Miss Kohilavathany Theivanayagam, a G.C.E. O/L student at the Vellaveli Kalaimahal Vidyalayam echoed Mrs. Chandrakumary’s fears.“The shells which landed in our village badly damaged our school. When we fled, I could not take any of my books,” she said.
“Even with books I am would be unable to continue my studies in this place. I no longer have the evening classes which were helping me prepare for the exam. I am also frightened all the time and it is difficult to concentrate.”
Kathirkaman Sathasivam, a community activist, said repeated displacements had frayed the social fabric of the communities in the area.
“Over the years, so many people have repeatedly fled their homes when there was violence or tension and drifted back later when it eased,” he said.
“The residents of Vellaveli, Punnakkulam, Peeli Aru, Porugamam, Peelivembu and Vivekananthapuram have displaced more than 15 times since 1985,” he said.
“They have repeatedly scattered and taken refuge in the neighboring villages of Suravanaiyadi Uttu, Thumpankerny, Gandhipuram, Kalumunthanvely, Thikkodai and Munaiththivu area.”“Since the conflict began, whenever the military suffers losses [in LTTE attacks] they punish us, attacking us and driving us from our homes. We have repeatedly been forced to live rough in new areas without adequate basic facilities in a prolonged uncertain situation,” he said.
“The children cannot study. The elderly and those who are sick endure severe hardship. We have borne all this again and again, but when will it end?”
Sathasivam said the August 13 offensive on Vellaveli had been particularly devastating as it had deprived the people of their harvest.
“The STF based in Mandoor has attacked our village many times in the past. Even after the Ceasefire Agreement [in 2002], the moved 1.5 km closer from their original positions and erected new sentry points and fortifications,” he said.
“Our main occupation is paddy cultivation. Every family cultivates at least 5 acres. We never experienced shortage of rice in our life, but now I am very sad to say that we are left without a single grain of rice.”
“Only the TRO is helping us now. In the past international NGOs such as World Vision helped, but not this time.”
“This is the harvest season but we are unable to step into our paddy fields. And nobody knows when we can return. The harvest may be lost and we don’t know how we will survive.”
“Some of the farmers with larger fields cultivate in many acres. They took out big loans to enable their farming. They will face incredible difficulties in resettling these loans, if the harvest is lost.”
“Our people are despairing. Some are so frightened about their debt they are on the verge of suicide.”