From graveyards to ghosts of liveration
By Frances Bulathsinghala in Wanni
Balasundarampillai, is one among four hired masons who have come from government-controlled Vavuniya to the LTTE-controlled Madhu region to construct anew the LTTE cemeteries that have been left incomplete.

He is following the instructions given by the LTTE on how the cemetery is to be arranged - with trenches cut. "Just in case, there is a war again," he adds without being asked. He does not have to add: to bury those who are killed.

The cement on the oblong tomb stones, 320 in all, is barely dry. This cemetery, in the vicinity of the Madhu church, unlike the many others which are completed with marble slabs and podium, had been mounds of soil, marking the graves of the cadres. Now wet and glistening, the name plaques are marked. Irrespective of rank, following the LTTE status of proclaimed equality.

Does the idea of another war seem to bother Mr. Balasunderampillai, a father of three children to feed? Not yet. For him after two and a half years of peace, war seems to hover in the distant, improbable horizon. The recent LTTE suicide bombing which shook Colombo in particular and the country in general does not apply to him.

He does not live in Colombo and is not a Sinhalese and the impact of the recent LTTE suicide attack has little effect on him. He does not know or care about the reasons behind the attack which was targeted at the arch enemy of the LTTE and the only Tamil political ally of President Kumaratunga, Minister Douglas Devananda.

And Mr. Balasundarampillai has only vaguely heard of Mr. Devananda, the Hindu Affairs Minister, the only Tamil politician who does not support the LTTE and whose very name on Tamil lips is considered poisonous fair by the Tamil Tigers.

And as he arranges brick upon brick to create the cemetery infrastructure which is similar to all the LTTE cemeteries in the other northeastern areas, Mr. Balasundaranpillai explains that he is lucky because he is hired by the LTTE directly. Lucky, because this way he does not have to pay the LTTE tax -- the rate depending on the nature and size of the construction -- for entering Tiger-controlled territory for obtaining employment in this land of liberation.

Not that there is any construction work as such, unless it is carried out by the LTTE. No one can afford constructions. And if any is attempted by any chance, there is the LTTE interrogation to be faced, as to why such constructions are needed for the ordinary people. There is no question here of building a house as opulent as one likes. Cement cannot be found anywhere except with the LTTE cement 'dealers' and (to a minimum extent) at the cooperative society located in the towns. And even here it is priced at Rs. 550 , because of the LTTE tax, nearly 150 rupees higher than the price in Colombo.

"We will be given another contract for a cemetery in Kilinochchi and maybe more. This is an assured income," says Mr. Balasundarampillai. He begins to enumerate the LTTE tax strategy but stops as the keeper of the cemetery, an LTTE member who declines to divulge his name, arrives to brusquely demand why we want to know anything about how the LTTE runs its administration.

He is friendlier when asked to explain about the costs of setting up the cemetery. About the LTTE cemeteries, the stamp of its military past and its 'freedom struggle', he is happy to talk.

It costs Rs. 6,000 a tomb, including the labour costs, he explains. He does not enumerate the expenditure for the lofty wall that surrounds the cemetery acreage, though. Nor does he explain about the LTTE proliferation of its coffers mainly through its taxes. According to the LTTE-run Wanni Transport Board, the tax, one way travel on the one bus which plies twice from the main Madhu route, is Rs. 40.

For bringing in bikes, cycles and tractors from government-controlled territory to LTTE regions, the tax is 25% which applies for any kind of goods including large quantities of consumer goods though the LTTE propaganda website claimed last year that they had waived taxes on most items.

More than 15 kilometres away from the area of the Madhu church, which was a camp for the war displaced, where over 10,000 families lived in shacks we turn towards the Mawawi-Kilinochchi route, the non-tarred jungle bordered road leads to pockets of land cleared for habitation. No buses of the LTTE transport service, the only transport service in the area, ply on this road. Dust creates an almost palpable curtain and the brown of the dried up shrubs gets thicker with each mile.

Periyapandivirichan, an arid jungle terrain, is one area along this stretch which houses around 35 families who had earlier lived in the huddled confines of the Madhu IDP settlement.

"There is no way of earning a living. We survive because we cultivate our own food," says Ponniah Mahendra standing on the parched ground which he has tried to force into bearing fruit with meagre results. It is now almost eight months since he and his acquaintances at the Madhu settlement arrived here with their scanty war preserved belongings and cleared the heavy jungle into a marginally habitable place.

He has tried to tame this land into agriculture as much as possible and his present agricultural bounty totals to a few plantain trees, onion paths, manioc and chillie cultivation.

He remains mute to what he thinks of the LTTE. Nobody makes any comment of what he thinks of the LTTE. Fettered by a poverty as parched as this land, liberation hovers in the air and blends into the hot winds. Yet, when asked why he does not make an effort to sell some of the produce, he says the effort of cycling five kilometres to the nearest village on his rusted cycle is not worth it as he has to also pay the 5% LTTE tax levied for selling vegetable produce.

Those owning cycles or motorcycles have a better way of earning a living as they rent the vehicles out for Rs. 10 a ride for short distances which total to around Rs. 50 for over ten kilometres.

Asked if the LTTE assists the Tamil people living in territory controlled by it through the LTTE-run monetary organisations such as the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation and the LTTE Economic Development Centre, he says he is not aware of such organisations as they do not assist the Tamil people in the Wanni. Nor does he seem aware of the nature of the liberation the LTTE is fighting for.

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