14th November 1999
While the poor Vavuniya residents fled to nearby safe
Civil administration collapses, looters move in
Leon Berenger and Chris Kamalendran in Vavuniya and Padaviya report
The northern town of Vavuniya became a ghost town yesterday after almost the entirety of its population from all sides of the ethnic divide fled following threats from the separatist LTTE.
Civil administration has collapsed with the closure of schools, banks, hospitals and state institutions while traders who were not taking any chances have put up shutters and moved out to safer areas.
Those opting to remain in this jittery town are mainly Tamils who have adopted a 'come what may'attitude and have chosen to ride their luck as the guns of war loom nearby. Among them are refugees displaced in earlier fighting. They have no place to go since they possess no exit passes issued by the authorities.
While a majority of the Tamil population sought refuge in safe areas such as Mannar, Madhu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, several hill stations and the capital Colombo, the Sinhalese and Muslims fled to areas in Anuradhapura, Medawachiya, Puttalam and Kalmunai.
As the exodus continued, the presence of state officials was rarely visible, with most of them reported to have fled as well.
The government hospital in the heart of Vavuniya town had already emptied all its patients, and from a total of 37 doctors only four remained to look after emergency cases.
The patients were earlier transferred to Chettikulam with the assistance of the French Nobel prize winning volunteer group, Medicin Sans Frontiers, together with local Red Cross and other officials.
Leading private companies were yesterday sending their executives to Vavuniya to assist the local agents to remove the goods to safer areas in the south.
The mass exodus began on Wednesday after the clandestine LTTE radio ,'Voice of the Tigers,' put out a bulletin hinting that it would strike the town with long-range artillery fire.
But there were others to gain from this miserable plight of those fleeing.
In nearby Medawachiya, unscrupulous vehicle owners were charging huge fees to transport those fleeing along with their goods.
Many eager to flee the area were charged something like Rs. 10,000 for the ride from Vavuniya to Medawachiya, which under normal circumstances would not cost even Rs. 2000 for the 15-mile journey.
Meanwhile, in a separate development there was rising tension in and around the pre-dominant Sinhala town of Padaviya, 60 miles east of Vavuniya as LTTE artillery shells fell on the border town of Welioya and the nearby environ.
Some 6,000 displaced people from the villages of Janakapura, Gajabapura, Nikawewa, Athawetunawewa, Monarawewa, Mahakeri Ibbanwewa, Kalyanapura and Helambagaswewa have already taken up temporary shelter at schools and temples while a few are putting up with relatives.
Meanwhile the defence ministry in a statement issued yesterday said there was a significant drop in families leaving Vavuniya and the situation there was improving. Only about 10-15 families left yesterday while about 25 shops were opened for business and the fuel filling stations were also operational by yesterday evening.
"Some of officials in Government Departments have reported for work and essential services are functioning in a reasonably satisfactory manner. A Large majority of people in the villages have continued to remain in their villages," the statement said.
By our Minneriya correspondent
A batch of 64 army recruits with (censored) at the military camp in Minneriya piled into two trucks heading for the battlefront.
They were an eager lot of village lads and were proud to serve their motherland in the various military units, ranging from infantry, ordnance and signals, assigned to them. They were scheduled to pass out at a ceremonial parade on November 19.
However, on Thursday morning, they were given just enough time to write to their families and friends, who had been invited by them to see them pass out, saying that the parade was cancelled and that they were heading for Vavuniya. They were informed that the ceremonial parade had been postponed indefinitely and they took that news in good spirit. According to some of the recruits, their training was intense. (censored).
The other recruits who joined the army (censored) batch and attached to other training camps have also been sent to the front from Monday.
On the eve of nominations, police have been instructed to crackdown on any form of motorcades carrying party supporters from now till a week after the presidential elections on December 21.
Any such vehicles will be seized and detained while those involved will be heavily fined or otherwise prosecuted, Police Traffic Chief DIG Camillus Abeygoonawardene told The Sunday Times.
Senior Superintendent M. Raban who is in charge of the Police Election Secretariat said they were acting in the belief that motorcades and similar events could threaten the peace during this crucial period of elections.
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
The Supreme Court has ordered the State to pay Rs. 150,000 as compensation to Police Superintendent Lalith Lekamge and his wife Priyani for the violation of their fundamental rights by the police.
SP Lekamge was the director of the Supplies Division at Police Headquarters until September 1998, when he was transferred to Mannar. In his petition, SP Lekamge said as director of the Supplies Division he had uncovered a number of frauds and recommended that two police officers be interdicted for alleged involvemnet in frauds.
He said he was investigating an alleged fraud by the giant Access Group which was supplying equipment and uniforms to the police when he started receiving threatening phone calls and was then transferred to Mannar. SP Lekamge said he was a heart patient and it would be difficult for him to move to Mannar but the Director Personnel at Police headquarters had told him a senior DIG did not want him in Colombo.
SP Lekamge said after he moved to Mannar, his residence at Mount Lavinia was thrice searched without a search warrant on a false allegation that he and his wife had ill-treated a child domestic.
He said he believed the searches were ordered by DIG H. M. G. B. Kotakadeniya and SSP Nihal Karunaratne who headed the police unit handling children and women's affairs. SP Lekamge said he had protested to the President and she in turn had asked the IGP to inquire but instead another illegal search was conducted.
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