Where hope and fear live side-by-side
The past still haunts people in the liberated district of Trincomaleee
Development work that will change the face of this strategic port city is going on apace but the human misery heaped upon the people by the ongoing separatist war continues.
Existing roads are being re-surfaced. A new and wider road is being built from Sampur to Nilaaveli, villages that are the sites for two new Indian-backed coal power projects. A main bus terminal, as well as many small ones, are taking shape. A pipe borne water scheme is being installed. Reconstruction of civilian homes ravaged by war is under way.
But the human scars of the war remain. More than 40,000 civilians who lived in Sampur and its environs fled their homes during the security forces offensive to re-capture Sampur, a fishing village separated from the Navy's Eastern Area Headquarters in the Dockyard only by sea. Some crossed the Verugal River to seek refuge in villages in the Batticaloa District. At least 30,000 of them are in Trincomalee and the surrounding areas.
More than 10,000 men, women and children live in a sprawling area dotted with makeshift tents roofed by corrugated zinc sheets. This is in the village of Kilivetty. The hot weather is forcing most to sleep or relax under trees. The people here are being fed by the World Food Programme. There are no educational facilities for the children. Most are families of fishermen who once carried on a lucrative trade. They are now being offered homesteads in Sinnakulam, Paattalipuram and Kiliveddy -- villages located inland.
Non-governmental organisations engaged in reconstruction work are willing to build houses for them. However, they are seeking an assurance before investing millions of rupees for this purpose. That is, a guarantee from the Government that the displaced civilians are not forced to re-settle but will do so voluntarily in the new homes. But the affected families are refusing to leave. They say going to those villages will be of no use since the land is arid and they would not be able to even cultivate to make a living. The debate continues.
Entering the precincts of Trincomalee town is no easy task. Those travelling there by public transport have to disembark at least five times for inspection at checkpoints located within a stretch of just one kilometre. If they are not lucky enough, they will also have to clear ad-hoc checkpoints that are set up.
The campaign for the Eastern Provincial Council elections is yet to gather momentum.
Last Sunday's killing of Highways Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, who was in charge of the polls campaign for Trincomalee, appears to have put a damper on it. A UPFA campaign rally was held in Mutur by (non-Cabinet) Disaster Relief Service Minister Ameer Ali. Though large crowds were expected, there were no more than 500. Yet, supporters of candidates are busy canvassing inside Government offices. This is to win the postal votes that will begin on April 22 and continue till April 29.
Fears over abduction or intimidation are rampant, says Trincomalee District Chamber of Commerce Chairman Raja Ram. Reacting out of fear, some Tamil youth are visiting offices of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) to offer their services and thus win assurances against possible threats to them. "As long as Tamil youth are armed in this district, we are not going to win our rights," he says.
The main issues at the polls appear to be: the crisis of the displaced persons, drinking water issues, difficulties in marketing agricultural production and fish and transport problems being some of them.
Seruvila – the predominantly Sinhala-populated area — is booming with business as TMVP cadres living in the Ichchilanpattu area, 12 km from Seruvila, come to this town to buy provisions. Civilians from this area also come to the Seruvila town. They believe they are well protected as the LTTE-controlled Sampur area has been cleared and civilians now using the ferry across the Verugal aru to travel from Vakarai to this area to buy provisions.
|The new and wider road being built from Sampur to Nilaaveli
||Refugee camp at Kiliveddy
In Kanthale – the town appears to be busier than on other days. New shops and restaurants have come up in the area. Kanthale is one of the areas affected by heavy rains resulting in damage to paddy cultivation. The farmers are expecting compensation from the Government.
Here the UPFA has the edge, though it was a hotbed of the JVP. The people here believe that they should protect the Government to ensure they can carryon with their business activities.
In Trincomalee town, chamber chief Ram says, “We need a political mechanism in the provincial setup so that we could take our problems to the provincial council.”
Fears of a re-emergence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are manifest in most people of Trincomalee. One of them drew a parallel to the past. A one time Chief Minister, Varatharajah Perumal from the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), established a Tamil National Army after he won the election to the then merged provinces of the north and east. They were later confronted by the Tiger guerrillas.
But there are others who say, it would be an elected party that would take control. They would have to make sure law and order are maintained.
...in fell the man bike and all
In addition to providing security to civilians, soldiers and police in the east are sometimes called on to literally fish people out of troubled waters.
A fish vendor high on liquour had been riding his motorcycle on to the ferry that operates across the Verugal Aru—a branch of the Mahaweli River on the border of Trincomalee and Batticaloa—when he fell in to the water, bike and all.
The soldiers and policemen on duty first dived into rescue the fisherman. They next salvaged the brand new bike with a hook-like device, much to the relief of the now sober and sobbing fisherman, who was sent off with a slight reprimand.
Main candidates for EPC polls in Trinco district
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem heads the UNP list in Trincomalee district. The other top names on the list are M.A.M.Maharoof, former Trincomalee district MP, SLMC national list MP M.S.Thowfeek, former UNP MP Sunil Shantha Ranaweera, attorney-at-law N.R.Varathan and retired education officer A.Parasuraman.
Former Trincomalee district MP M.K.A.de.S Gunawardene, heads the UPFA list. A retired police officer he represented the Seruvila electorate before the introduction of the district PR system and was also elected from the district under the PR system. His political base is in Kantale.
Hasan Moulavi, a philanthropist from Kinniya who unsuccessfully contested from the Trincomalee district at the 2004 Parliamentary elections is also coming forward.
Others are Ms Ariyawathi Galapatti who was earlier a UNP organizer in Trincomalee district and later joined the UPFA and was appointed an SLFP organizer and K.M.Thoufeek, former Trincomalee district MP who has his political base in Mutur. Mr. Thoufeek successfully contested the Trincomalee district in the 2004 parliamentary election He joined the UPFA leaving the SLMC to contest this election.
Among the three Tamil candidates in the list is Dr.K. Hemachandra a leading medical practitioner and a social worker running a private nursing home in Trincomalee town.
Wimal Piyatissa based in Kantale is the chief candidate of the JVP. He is a teacher by profession.
Akila Ilankai Tamil Front (AITF)
Dr.K.Vigneswaran is the lead candidate of the AITF.
He was earlier associated with the EDPD. He unsuccessfully contested from the Trincomalee district at the 2004 Parliamentary election on the EPDP ticket.