Poverty stares chena farmers hit by bullet and jungle ban

By Wasantha Chandrapala

The villagers of Kotiyagala in Siyambalanduwa, Monaragala are facing immense hardship due to a ban on chena cultivation in the jungle bordering the village. The ban was imposed following the recent slaying of seven farmers from the village, 14 kilometres into the surrounding jungle.

Chena cultivation is the only livelihood for a majority of the villagers and during the season farmers go deep into the jungle with their family members and stay there for weeks at a time.

The burnt tractors of the slain farmers

On September 11, seven villagers who had gone into the jungle were found dead, their bodies bearing gun shot wounds. Two tractors used by the farmers were also found burnt. The farmers were killed by suspected LTTE cadres, roaming in the area. Now, more than 400 families are left pondering their future, after the ban on chena cultivation.

The villagers were awaiting the upcoming rains to plant seeds on the acres of land they had cleared for cultivation purposes. They had spent thousands of rupees for this, but now, their hard work appears to have been in vain.

The mood is sombre in the village where villagers still mourn the slaying of the seven men and white flags dot the area. Fifty-five year-old R. M. Heenbanda, speaking on behalf of the villagers said, “For years, several families have been sharing the same land and have been going into the jungle for chena cultivation. If we are not allowed to do this, the government must feed us,” he said.

Siyambalanduwa Pradeshiya Sabha Member R. M. Jayaratne said if the villagers are allowed to cultivate their crops this season, they would have sufficient food for one year. If not, they will face a dire situation.
“It is chena cultivation that feed the people for one whole year, educate their children, build them houses and buy them medicine and other necessities. Without it, they may not be able to survive. We will have to find an alternative for them.

An Army bunker in Kotiyagala

Describing the history of Kotiyagala village, 60-year-old K. M. Ratnayake said, that when the village came into existence in 1956, it had 150 families. Now, three generations of people live in the village. “We urge the President to let us go back to our chena cultivation,” he pleaded.

However Monaragala Senior Superintendent of Police Amarasiri Senaratne, addressing a group of villagers on Monday said, the ban has been imposed for the security of the villagers.

“The plan of the terrorists is to create mayhem in the South, while operations intensify in the North. We won’t fall for this trap. We will do our maximum to protect the villagers,” he said.

Police statement sparks tourist drop, say Yala officials

By Damith Wickremasekara

Wildlife officials have called on military and police officials to exercise prudence when statements on the security situation in Yala are issued as certain remarks had adversely affected the tourist arrivals to the Yala national park.

The wildlife officials’ plea came in the wake of a police statement that two female suicide bombers carrying five claymore mines had entered the Yala wild life park.

The statement was made by Police Spokesman Ranjith Gunasekara on Monday following a shooting incident in Monaragala, SSP Gunasekera, later clarified the statement saying that the area he was referring to was the northern end of the Yala area, an area to which visitors had no access.

But wildlife officials said a series of tour cancellations had followed because his original statement had set off panic among local and foreign tourists.

One official claimed that since the statement was made, a 50 percent drop in arrivals at the park had been recorded, He said it was unfortunate that the statement was made just weeks before the tourist season began.

Wildlife Director D. P Wijesuriya told The Sunday Times that the Block 1 area, the only area where visitors were allowed, was secure.

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