People resettled in Keppapilavu:
Mullaitivu rises from the ashes
“The LTTE did not allow me to return home which was in Udugama, Galle
since I was a Sinhalese,” said the man now resettled in a village in the
Maritimepattu DS Division of the Mullaitivu district. Let us call him
‘Pathmanadan’. Born and raised in Udugama in Galle, ‘Pathmanadan’, like
many in his fishing village travelled to different coastal areas to fish
depending on the various seasons. One such place was the Keppapilavu
village in Mullaitivu where he went as part of a team to fish in the
Pathmanadan would have never thought, not even in his dreams, that
the lagoon that he made a living out of would one day mark the end of a
battle against terrorism. His life had never been a bed of roses.
Pathmanadan and a few other young men had settled down in Keppapilavu
village and raised their families. Things had been normal for them, just
facing the usual difficulties in life, until LTTE terrorists started
affecting their lives, starting from the mid ’80s.
Being a Sinhalese with a Sinhala name, he faced problems in many ways
from the LTTE. Even his Tamil neighbours became helpless and he started
feeling less secure. Thus, this young man changed his name and all his
details and ‘became’ a Tamil. “It was very difficult to get permission
from the LTTE to leave Mullaitivu for a visit to my family in Galle. And
as time passed, my contacts with them faded away,” said Pathmanadan.
Today, in his late sixties, Pathmanadan is happy to live peacefully,
back in his village. “I still go for fishing but it is becoming
difficult too as we grow old,” he said. Many houses have been built in
his village by the soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army with funds from the
Government. A resettling family receives around Rs. 350,000 to build a
The main problem in these villages is finding the man-power to build
a house and transport material. Today, the Army personnel deployed in
areas where people are resettling assist the villagers to build their
houses and to those civilians who are not physically fit, the soldiers
take the total responsibility to build a house.
Keppapilavu is the last village to be resettled and as the initial
stage, the Army has started the ‘Fifty houses in ninety days’ project
under the command of Commander of the Army Lieutenant General Jagath
Jaysuriya and the direct supervision of Commander of the Security Forces
in Mullaitivu Maj.Gen. L.B.R. Mark. The project is in full swing. More
than 10 houses are already complete in the Keppapilavu village and the
rest have started construction work.
Another villager, Murugesu (60) could only talk about his plans for
the house-warming ceremony while chatting with us one evening during our
tour. His new house, being built with the help of Army soldiers is
almost complete. The temporary shelter built when he resettled back in
his village is still there next to the new house.
Fishermen or farmers
Murugesu is also a fisherman by profession. Most of the villagers
here were either fishermen or farmers over generations. Today, this
village is coming up as a model village with all facilities a village
would need. Life is surely getting back to normal for the people.
“My granddaughter joined the Army recently,” said Murugesu, talking
about his eldest son’s daughter who was one of the 100 Tamil girls now
undergoing training to become woman soldiers. “I’m very happy about her
decision and she has a secure job too. That’s a relief and a big support
to the family,” he said.
There are 262 families comprising 868 persons in the village,
according to Rasaiah Parameshwaran, President of the Rural Development
Society. The Grama Niladhari Division has four villages – Sooriyapuram,
Keppapilavu, Seeniyamotai and Pelakkudiyirippu. After resettling, the
villagers have formed a Rural Development Society to effectively
coordinate the development work of the society.
“Eighty families are yet to come. They were living with their
relatives and are now making arrangements to come back home,”
Parameshwaran said. According to him, lands allocated for these families
have already been handed over to them. Most of the people living in the
Grama Niladhari Division had left the villages in November 2008, seeking
the safety of the Government from LTTE terrorists. They were settled in
the Cheddikulam Menik Farm village for displaced persons.
“President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to visit us. He understood what we
needed to properly resettle. A visit from the leader of the country
meant a lot to us,” he said.
Fresh water supply
Today, the village has eight wells and 10 tube wells that supply
fresh water for drinking and other day-to-day activities of the
villages. The Vatappalai School is the closest school for the children
to attend. At present the school has classes up to Advanced Level and
178 children study there.
Transportation is the problem the residents of this Grama Niladhari
Division face and according to Parameshwaran, they have requested from
the Mullaitivu District Secretary a solution to this problem. To prevent
children getting affected by the lack of transportation that would
discourage them from attending school, more than 200 bicycles were
provided to families with schoolchildren in a move organised by Army
personnel under the Security Forces Headquarters Mullaitivu.
“Schoolchildren can regularly attend school now. It is helpful to the
family as well,” he said.
“We received enough seed paddy for cultivation from the Government.
This included four bags of seed paddy per acre of field. Fertiliser was
also provided under the subsidy,” he said, explaining the commencement
of their livelihood activities. “Thirty two women in our village are
widows. With the help of the Army, sewing-machines were given to those
who liked to start a sewing business. Thus 25 machines were
distributed,” he said.
The development of the Grama Niladhari Division is the responsibility
of the Army’s 59 Division under the command of the Security Forces
Headquarters Mullaitivu. At present, the command of the Division is
under Brigadier Kumudu Perera. Many of the resettling villages fall
under the 591 Brigade’s area of responsibility.
“In this area, there are 17 Grama Niladhari Divisions and demining is
completed in 15 of them,” said Colonel Sanjaya Wanasinghe, Colonel
General Staff of the 59 Division.
Explaining the responsibility the Army shoulders in these newly
resettled areas, Col. Wanasinghe said all the work the Army is involved
in are requests that come from the people to the local administration.
“Through local administration, especially through the District
Secretary, the development mechanism is taking place. As we have good
human resources we assist the Government’s development program with our
man-power,” he said.
“The Government administration system in these areas is still being
established. Thus, unlike in other countries, Sri Lanka’s Military,
armed with huge human resources, cannot afford to be kept in camps,
engaged only in their routine work. The country’s need of the hour is to
ensure that people of this area get back to their normal lives as soon
as possible. In this process, Sri Lankan military organisations have a
greater potential in assisting the Government mechanism, as at present,
they are the only well-established arm of the Government in these areas.
Until the local administration is properly established, soldiers have a
bigger role to play, going beyond their defence responsibilities”.
According to statistics provided by the District Secretariat, more
than 6,950 women and more than 6,500 men live in the 17 Grama Niladhari
Divisions. Brigades of the 59 Division have taken the responsibility of
constructing almost 300 houses in the Grama Niladhari Divisions funded
by the Government, Non-Governmental Organisations as well as
well-wishers. As Col. Wanasinghe further explained, there is a greater
need to assist the elderly and the families of widows. Accordingly,
there are 590 widows in these villages of which 201 are below 50. With
funding from various donors, the Army has managed to assist 86 widows
below 50 to start a livelihood either in sewing, backyard poultry or
various home-based industries that would empower them with a monthly
income. Today, many women are flourishing in their business; starting
from one sewing machine, several of them have now expanded their
business and provided employment for two or three other girls from the
In addition to the efforts of the Sri Lanka Army, the Economic
Development Ministry, with the aim of strengthening community leaders
for national development, preparing resource builders and forging strong
bonds between the North and South are conducting workshops for newly
resettled villages under the direction of Minister Basil Rajapaksa. At
present, over 1,825 persons, from the North as well as from the South
have been trained. Covering nearly 21 districts, over 52 training
workshops for community resources building have been held under this
special program to strengthen mutual understanding and build friendship
between the North and the South.
Villagers in the North and the South will appoint community leaders,
who in turn will arrange meetings between the two communities.
Accordingly, people from the South will be guests in homes in the North
where the guests will spend time with host families, have meals
together, exchanging a lifetime experience. Under this special program,
the Economic Development Ministry has taken around 62 persons from the
Ratnapura district to spend a day with people in the Peraru village in
the Mullaitivu district.
After three years of ending a three-decade long battle against
terrorism, Mullaitivu district, the inner-most area of the Northern
Province, is rising from the ashes. Being isolated from the national
development drive, which the rest of the country was privileged to
enjoy, the Mullaitivu district demands special attention. Though not
known to many citizens, Mullaitivu has been flourishing in the fishing
and agri-based industries during the good old days. It is high time for
the country to combine the enthusiasm of the Mullaitivu people and its
resources to the national development drive. Within the past three
years, since more attention has been given to the physical development
of the area, it is time to empower the people and make them proud
participants in the drive to develop Sri Lanka.