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DateLine Sunday, 30 September 2007

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Journey through the East:

Until the dawn of the maiden rays


The much-awaited Eastern journey that covered most of the dispalaced persons makeshift camps and the officials responsible for executing the mega development plan for the East, commenced with lending our ears to harrowing tales by refugees who have often compelled to run from one village to another to escape the roaring flames of hostilities until they settled down in a group of shabby make-shift tents in Trincomalee.

On a hillock near the sixth post in Koneshpuri stood the tents which housed 107 inmates including pregnant woman and less than one-year old babies. Their faces were woeful and vacant. Equally woeful are the stories of how they have been uprooted from their original habitats and escaped to Trincomalee through jungle tracks in order to avoid praying eyes of the terrorists.

For security reasons, we escaped to Patalipuram. From there to Sinnamveli. Thereafter to Illangamthurai Muwathurai. Then Vakarai and Batticaloa. Finally Trincomalee', said Sita Lechchami (40).

Later, I learnt from the interpreter that Santhospuram is a coastal village in Sampura and the name for the village was derived from a killed LTTE cadre Santhosh. Now the village is under Sri Lankan army.

Sita belongs to a rare community of aborigines in the North East of Sri Lanka. As their livelihood is associated with the forest, they wanted to go back to their original habitat. Sita's family who were uprooted from the village lot their livelihood. Although the men in the camp joined the work parties in the road construction, they are dependent on dry rations provided by the Government.


Maiden rays over the East

When they left the village, they had to abandon their lives stocks including chickens besides the house-hold items. It seems that their fervent hope is to go back to their villages and to start life.

According to statistics at the District Secretary of Batticaloa, among those who have displaced following the East Humanitarian Operation, 104442 persons have, now, been resettled. The figure includes 31992 families. Although the remaining 11500 families are being resettled, there are few families who could not go back to their original habitat due to security and logistic reasons.

Sita Lechchami's village, Sampoor is fall into this category as it is now a high security zone. Sita's dream of returning to Sampoor will, for the time moment, remain as a dream. The hopes and fear is written over their faces.

Another important bit of information that gathered from the interpreter was that the attempts made to 'civilize' the aborigines by forcing them to live in houses and to use toilets. First it was by voluntary organisations and later by the TRO.

However, the attempts were ended up in smoke as aborigine refused to stay in houses built for them. In a way it is a folly on the part of those who tried to uproot aborigine from their culture and to force on another.

The entire landscape is highly militarised and every bit of normal life seems to be complex here. It is the people's representatives at grass root level who listen to the people's complaints and situation has been confounded by war and tsunami. However the major obstacle they face is lack of allocation to solve the problems.

According to Chairman of Uppuveli Pradeshiya Sabha (Tamil National Alliance) and Opposition Leader S. M. Senudeen (SLFP), the local authorities have no mandate to intervene into problems faced by people. Although most of the resettlements of Tsunami affected people have been done, there are residual issues.

The community consisting 392 houses built at Koneshpuri has left many unresolved issues including poorly constructed houses and allied facilities. Dr. V. Amirdeen of the University of Peradeniya, who has conducted a research on problems faced by people in the East of the is of the view that new approach is needed in addressing issues given the heterogeneous population in the East. The problems should be solved in a manner involving all communities in the East.

This is also one aspect that can be integrated into development programme currently undergoing in the Eastern province. Crisis in political leadership in the East has adversely affected on the development.

'The political crisis in the East is a major concern. It affects every aspect of public life from development to commencing dialogue aimed at finding a political solution. Most of them are armed while others affected by this culture', said S. Sundaram, Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Batticaloa. He is of the view that the province needs a political leadership with a vision to develop the province and to bring about normalcy.

People expect a political solution formulated through All Party Conference and a solution acceptable to all communities in the province. Although impressed by the progress achieve in the mega development plan, people's representatives in the East are of the view that political stability and normalcy is essential to effectively implement the development project.

This fact was later confirmed by DIG Batticaloa HMD Herath who said that especial measures have been taken including recruiting more officers to the police with Tamil language proficiency. Police has helped to conduct procession of Mamim Kovil which was held after 24 years.

Sings of normalcy is visible as people commenced their cultural activities such as the Perahera (Precession) of Lumbini Viharaya in Ampara which was held after 22 years. As dusk gathered we left the place. If the maiden rays dawn on these people and if it be able to cast away pale and vacantness from their faces, their tomorrow will be brighter.

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