On the run
Whether from government controlled areas or uncleared areas, people in the East are fleeing to avoid the fighting between security forces and LTTE
The agony of displacement – this is what thousands of people are facing in both government-controlled areas and uncleared areas in the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa.
Clutching on to whatever belongings they were able to collect, people are fleeing their homes in the paddy and sugarcane cultivated areas of Somapura, Mahaweligama, Srimangalapura, Siriduwa, Kallar hamlets in the government controlled areas and fleeing to Kantale.
On the otherside of the government controlled areas, the situation is the same, with villagers fleeing southwards further into LTTE controlled areas.
|Refugees at Seevali Vidyalaya in Kantale
By Friday an estimated 45,000, from both government controlled areas and uncleared areas were displaced with government officials who are far outnumbered, finding it difficult to cope with the influx of displaced people.
Some of the people were fleeing for the first time in their lives, while others were undergoing it for the second or third time within the short span of three months.
Some 40 kilometres east of Kantale town houses remain closed with most of them being abandoned. The only ones who dare to return during the daytime are the farmers who have to attend to the paddy fields as the sowing season has started.
Residents in government controlled areas started fleeing their homes towards Kantale last week soon after an artillery shell landed in the premises of the Somadevi Vidyalaya in Kallar injuring 10, of whom two succumbed to their injuries. The day after the incident more civilians started fleeing their homes towards Kantale town. During this period five civilians died. Twenty four soldiers also died in military operations.
The displaced are being housed in eight camps in the Kantale town . These include the Agrabodhi temple, the railway station, the Agbopura temple and about two schools. More than 4000 people – more than half of them women and about 400 children below five years were staying in the camps while a few were living with friends and relatives in and around town.
By Wednesday the shelling by both the security forces and LTTE had ceased, but the government was finding it difficult to convince the people to return home as they feel the security is inadequate.
|A damaged house in Seruwila
This is in spite of the army detachments at Mahindapura, (the last checkpoint before entering the LTTE controlled area) Arippu, Ali-Oluwa, the smaller army posts along the Kantale road and the Seru Nuwara police station.
In a move to persuade the people to return home the government is building bunkers in the vicinity of their homes so that they can take cover if and when the LTTE launches artillery attacks.
Necessary machinery has been sent from Colombo to dig up the trenches and put up bunkers while concrete slabs are being prepared in Colombo to expedite the construction.
“We have been instructed to put up 500 permanent bunkers for the villagers in a bid to convince them to go back home,” Seru Nuwara Divisional Secretray Aruna Devendra told The Sunday Times. He said since these were farming villages the presence of villagers was necessary to maintain the crops.
We saw to ourselves that some of the crops in the abandoned paddy fields were being destroyed by cattle and goats.
Villagers in Serunuwara are more fearful than the others since the police station itself had been targeted by the LTTE and several houses in the vicinity of the area had been destroyed in the attack.
Back in Kantale, government officials are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the influx of refugees. Only three months ago they were coping with about 50,000 people who were displaced from Mutur.
Although the government has announced plans to intensify security in about 300 villages vulunerable to LTTE attacks the villagers are not convinced that the security is adequate.
The people living in LTTE controlled areas are facing a similar plight. Thousands are displaced with many undergoing the same trauma for the second or third time since August. Most of them were first displaced when fighting erupted in Mutur only to be displaced again when fighting flared up in the Sampur area.
After last week’s shell attacks civilians living in the uncleared areas of Verugal, Kathiraveli, Thanganagar, Singapuram, Lingapuram and Uppra have been fleeing further southwards towards Vakarai.
More than 4000 people have travelled further south to reach the government controlled Batticaloa area. Some of them have even taken a risky boat ride after paying Rs. 1,500 each.
“The people do not have money to pay for the boat ride. They come to the Valachchenai area and pawn or sell the little gold they own to pay for the ride. Some people who do not have the money travel more than 20 to 30 kilometres by foot,” Trincomalee district MP K.Thurairathnasingham told The Sunday Times.He said sometimes these poor people who are trying to find their way into the safety of government controlled areas are forced to pay money to those who guide them through the jungle tracks avoiding the army and LTTE areas.
Meanwhile the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission has blamed the LTTE for preventing civilians from going towards government controlled areas.
According to Batticaloa’s Government Agent S.Punyamoorthy some 40,000 people displaced by the conflict are still in the uncleared areas.
He said the last time a food convoy reached the area was on November 27, with several other attempts to send food failing during the past few weeks.
During a fierce exchange of shelling between the security forces and the LTTE last Friday and Saturday some 42 civilians were reported killed and over 100 injured in the uncleared areas.
The Vakarai hospital was manned only by one doctor and midwife who were forced to cope with the influx of the injured as well as refugees who were seeking safety from falling shells in the hospital premises. About 2000 frightened people had sought refuge in the hospital.
|Fleeing against all odds
Civilians living in unclered areas of the Batticlaoa district and who are caught up in the cross-fire between the LTTE and security forces are defying an LTTE ban and heading to government controlled areas in the district.
More than 1,500 civilians, crossed over to the government controlled areas yesterday bringing the total to 5,000 in the past three days, Batticaloa G.A. S.Punyamoorthy told The Sunday Times.
Civilians were arriving in Valachchenai, Reditheann and Poonai and they were being put up in schools that were not being used for the ongoing O/Level exams. The government is also providing the refugees with cooked meals, he said.
Those fleeing to these areas confirmed that the LTTE was against them leaving, but the shortage of food, medicines and the volatile security situation had forced them to do so against all odds.
Meanwhile, the GA said he had contacted the International Committee of Red Cross and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and asked them to assist in relief operations.
Over 40,000 civilians, most of them who arrived from Trincomalee after being displaced due to fighting between the security forces and LTTE in Sampoor three months back have been moving southwards towards Batticaloa. During the past few months they were living in the uncleared areas of Vakarai and Verugal.
Meanwhile at least 14 people were drowned on Friday when the boat they were travelling in capsized when they were fleeing from LTTE controlled Vakarai to government – controlled areas in Batticaloa.