The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

30th June 1996




Sinhala refugees ignored

Buddhist body blames Britain

The Federation of Buddhist Organizations has urged Britain to give equal priority to the resettlement of Sinhala refugees similar to that of the rebuilding of the north.

An FBO delegation told Nick Aftbury, the Second Secretary of the British High Commission, at a meeting that moves by Britain as were going against the majority community. They cited providing funds to rehabilitate places only in the North and East as an example.

"We feel that equal priority should also be given to the resettlement of the Sinhalese who have fled their homes and funds should be channeled for this purpose as well", FBO President, Gallage Punnyawardena said.

The FBO appeal came in the wake of an offer by the British government to send as soon as possible, generators and cabling worth around Rs. 70 million (800,000) to the CEB's Jaffna branch. The offer was conveyed to President Chandrika Kumaratunga by British High Commissioner David Tatham at a meeting of donor states and organisations in Colombo, on Thursday.

The FBO meeting with the British High Commission was arranged following a protest made by the organisation over Western diplomats meeting with Tamil political parties. The FBO said such meetings were an interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Aftbury commenting on the meeting said, "It was an interesting discussion. The FBO put forward some interesting ideas". Mr. Aftbury said the High Commission would send a report on the meeting to London soon in keeping the usual practice.

BHC to get a facelift

One of Colombo's best-known landmarks, the British High Commission (BHC) is scheduled to receive a major facelift or even a change of location. Advertisements calling for expression of interest (EOI) to finance, develop, lease and operate the premises for the BHC in Colombo, will appear in international media today, High Commissioner David Tatham told a group of Sunday papers last Friday.

The four-storied building is, "30 years old and beginning to show its age," Mr. Tatham told the press.

EOI are called, with deadline of one month, from individual organisations or consortiums with a proven track record and sound financial standing, Mr. Tatham said.

Once the EOI are evaluated, short listed applicants will be required to submit comprehensive proposals for further evaluation and final selection.

"It may be 2-3 years before we know where we are going," Mr. Tatham said. "The framework for the whole project is very flexible," he added.

The minimalist approach would be to simply refurbish the existing building. The wiring lifts, air-conditioning need upgrading, Mr. Tatham said. The maximalist approach would be to take the property off our hands and lease it to us after refurbishment or even relocate it, he said. BOO or BOT projects will be considered, he added.

The BHC may settle for something in between these two approaches, he added.

In the case of a lease, the contract will be for a minimum of 20 years, and payments will be in quarterly installments.

The existing land and building is owned by the British government. But British government philosophy has undergone change over the years, to adopt a free market policy, where the government is minimising its involvement in businesses other than its core business, Mr.Tatham said.

GMOA upset over transfer moves

The GMOA and the Health Ministry are at loggerheads over certain transfer decisions taken, without consulting GMOA representatives.

Deputy Director General of Health Services Dr. K.M. Velumylan, who had chaired, what the GMOA said was an ill-constituted board last Monday decided to transfer two high-ranking doctors. This violates the Establishment Code and may lead to a crisis in the health sector, GMOA said.

"We have informed the proper authorities and we expect the Minister to take stern disciplinary action on this issue."

The GMOA had got an assurance from the Minister himself who had stated that no transfer would take place without the presence of a representative from a trade union.

MP's siren call

UNP MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena has called on the government, philanthropists and organizations to help in the distribution of sirens to the vulnerable districts of Anuradhapura, Puttalam, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara.

These sirens, says Dr. Jayawardena will warn villages in case of a tiger attack are made locally and costs Rs. 8400. Sound will reach out up to 1 1/2 Km.

Describing the present security situation in the vulnerable areas he said he personally thinks that more youth from the villages should be trained in jungle warfare and use of an automatic weapon. "It will not only be a job they will be protecting their own families and properties, too".

According to Dr. Jayawardena they have identified 200 vulnerable areas (villages) and so far 15 sirens have been distributed.

Living on the edge of fear

By Arshad M. Hadjirin in the border villages of Polonnaruwa

With most troops going for more important duties and largely half-trained home guards taking over security duties at border villages, life for the people there has become more fearful.

Minor attacks by the LTTE in recent weeks have made matters worse and life miserable.

This is the feeling of the villagers whether they live on the borders of the eastern Ampara district or the north-central Polonnaruwa district.

So fearful are these villagers, that they do not know from where or when the next Tiger attack would come. Tigers have infested much of the jungle areas posing a great threat to backward villages.

Many villagers talked to "The Sunday Times" on an extensive trip covering several of these vulnerable areas. "We are prey to terrorists who would want to massacre us any time they wish and loot our belongings" they said.

According to the villagers at Welikanda, Tigers are frequent visitors at night, and during day they retire to the thickets. During the night hardly anybody steps out of the cadjan huts, which stand nearly 50 metres apart from each other. And this means, they are not able to cry for help nor seek refuge.

The villages at Welikanda, which are usually headed by a monk of that area, have chosen their own men as home guards. Though their numbers vary, from village to village, there is a home guard for every 25 persons. Armed with automatics and shot guns, the home guards are stationed in improvised rock bunkers during the night to repulse the Tigers.

Sunil Gamage, a home guard at Palletiyawa, protecting nearly 400 families said that he opted for this job, for the sake of saving the lives of their kith and kin. However he is a farmer by day with little or no harvest due to elephants rampaging on one side and Tiger attacks on the other. His as well as other families spend most of their nights in sheer fright, for they wouldn't know how to, or where to run during a Tiger attack. "Recently one of our home guards was killed and another abducted."

A simple meal is cooked in a hurry in the dark, lest light might attract the Tigers. They gulp down the dinner and lie down to sleep. "But then again we keep our eyes and ears open for any possible attacks from the Tigers. In short, we are living under great pressure", said the villagers.

People of a village near Maduru Oya, 15 km. from Batticaloa, had a different story to tell. "We had been receiving refugees from other side of the river up to 1993 and in time to come we too might have to drift further from our homes if the security situation deteriorates". Along the borders many hundreds of families live and if there is a continued threat from the Tigers, a mass exodus would be inevitable, they said.

Further, into the thickets and very much closer to the Thoppigala jungles, which is a stronghold of the LTTE, a villager lamented his fate at having to live in fear. "Five years ago we were living in peace and our children were attending school. But now the situation is entirely different. Our incomes are declining and as a result we are malnourished. Doctors would hardly peep into our villages" he complained.

A similar situation prevails along the district boundaries of Ampara, Batticaloa, Moneragala, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee, Vavuniya and Anuradhapura. Ranjith Piyadasa, Resident Project Manager (RPM) at System B of the Mahaweli project said as much as 20,000 families at System B alone are highly endangered. "Aside the fact that System B houses one third of all three communities, the people are facing a tough time these days, with the increase of LTTE activities here", he said.

"Out of the 7 Mahaweli systems, 'B' which covers the Welikanda area and 'L' which covers Padaviya and Parakrama have come under imminent danger. The relationship between the communities have grown bitter and development of the lands have come down. Education levels too have deteriorated drastically, and people are less interested in their farms. All this put together, make life difficult for this bunch of villagers who do not have any contact with the outside world," said Mr. Piyadasa.

A Provincial Councilor for Singhapura told "The Sunday Times" that there is hardly any bus service, nor any type of transport. This has led to severe inconveniences among villagers who occasionally may want to take their sick for treatment or on any other important business. A total ban is imposed by the Army that nobody should step out of their houses after dusk. "Life is terrible here" he says.

"This cannot last for long" said a 9 year old girl who had missed much of her school education. "We like to get back to our homes and live a normal life." Her father said that they sold their jewelry to pay for three meals a day, as assistance from government has come down to nil.

Continue to the News/Comment page 2 - Demo LTTE against show, Conditions chaotic, say Kolonnawa companies, Supplies to north face shipping problem, Aruna Kithsiri returns home

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