The slow and the furious

Published : 9:33 am  July 29, 2015 | No comments so far |  | 

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After nearly three decades of war, the small coastal village of Valalai lay in ruins. Bare foundations and crumbling walls peek through the jungle foliage of this 95-hectare village in the Jaffna district.

Arulanandan Amalaraj has returned home after nearly two decades of displacement, during which he and his family scraped out a rough existence living with relatives, in rented rooms and in welfare centres in Jaffna.
The 64-year-old fisherman says he lost his ancestral home near the neighbouring Palaly during the shelling between the military and LTTE.

“When we returned two weeks ago, I saw only hills of rubble among the huge jungle trees. The houses had no doors, roofs or windows. Sometimes only a single wall was left standing,” he said.
Amalaraj, his wife and four children joined hundreds of other families earlier this month in returning to their former houses.
President Maithripala Sirisena announced in March that Tamil families would be allowed to return to the area after nearly 25 years of war and  military occupation.


Brigadier Jayanath Jayaweera, a military spokesperson, said that nearly 19,158 hectares of land formerly used as security zones had now been released to the original owners.


Thousands of other families from surrounding areas still wait for the government to issue similar orders so they too can return home.
But the homecoming is a mixed blessing, since there are few inhabitable homes left, almost no infrastructure and few livelihood options.
For his family Amalaraj has built a temporary structure out of tin sheets and tarpaulins, but feeding them and providing for daily needs remain a challenge.

“I will go fishing this afternoon. I need to buy school shoes for my third daughter. But it is in the hands of God since I have caught little or nothing for the last two days,” Amalaraj said.
The other returnees also face similar hardships. They have no running water or electricity, no radio, television or internet.
Farmer Anton Yoganathan, and his wife recently returned to the land on which they were born and raised. Like the other families, they found their houses in ruins.

“We found only the skeleton of the house,” he said.
Yoganathan, 67, and other Valalai farmers have been working in recent weeks to rebuild their houses. As the work continues, they spend sleepless nights out of doors in the rainy season.
It is just Yoganathan and his wife now trying to rebuild their lives in a war-ravaged village.
“My elder son was killed in the war. The LTTE recruited soldiers during the conflict,” Yoganathan said, adding that his three other sons fled to Europe.

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Post-war and lands
The three decade long or Asia’s longest civil war ended in 2009, amid allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity on the part of government soldiers and the LTTE.
Following the end of the war thousands of hectares in the north and east of the country were seized and designated as high security zones occupied by the military.

Though Tamil people’s lands are now slowly being returned, thousands of families remain cut off from their former houses, while sign boards and high security gates mark the military camps still operating in and around Jaffna.
Meanwhile, the absence of village schools forces children to travel great distances to continue their education.
The slow return of land and the government’s failure to rebuild infrastructure have sparked public demonstrations over the past few years.
Selvarasa Arulanandan Sebamalai Amma, 60, says displaced Tamils have been forced to depend almost entirely on the military for even for basic necessities.

“My husband is a labourer, but finding work has been difficult,” she said, adding that many of the area’s farmers have been forced in fields now owned by the army, and most labourers could hope only for 10 to 15 days of work a month.
 “The military took our photographs and collected all the details about our family,” she said.
Despite the criticisms and protests by Tamil villagers, Sri Lanka’s military insists that authorities have brought peace and stability to the north.

Brigadier Jayanath Jayaweera, a military spokesperson, said that nearly 19,158 hectares of land formerly used as security zones had now been released to the original owners.
“Police maintain law and order in the former war-hit areas, and no act of terror has been reported since the end of the war,” Jayaweera said.
“We maintain army camps throughout the country as part of our national security strategy. Former war zone areas are peaceful,” he said.


There have been no arrangements made for even temporary shelter.. No arrangements have been made to compensate the owners for the decades that the military occupied their lands or for income lost due to the occupation


But A. Deleep, a Tamil rights activist, says that a lot of land has yet to be released to displaced Tamils. “The army is still occupying the private houses and lands of Tamils, and expanding military camps in areas such as Palaly, Muhamalai, Ariyalai, Myliddy and Kadduvan,,” Deleep said.

“The army some years ago demolished religious sites, houses, schools and put up luxury resorts, golf courses, travel agencies, restaurants, cafes, and cultivated thousands of hectares to sell their [agricultural] products to displaced Tamils,” he said.
Little has been done to help former residents get back on their feet, he said.

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Civil rights activists are concerned that returnees attempting to rebuild their lives face a dangerous and uncertain future.
Ruki Fernando, an advocate for minority rights in Sri Lanka, says that no attempt to secure basic access to water, sanitation, education or healthcare was made in advance of the return of displaced families.
“There have been no arrangements made for even temporary shelter,” Mr. Fernando said.
“No arrangements have been made to compensate the owners for the decades that the military occupied their lands or for income lost due to the occupation,” he said.

The return of displaced Tamil communities comes at a time of political transition in Sri Lanka.
More than 2,000 Tamil families have filed cases against the military for the return of their ancestral lands.
Amalaraj says that he and his family are happy that the bombs and shelling have stopped, and that despite the hardships he is happy to once again occupy his family lands.

But with little work or resources to assist in rebuilding their lives, he fears for the future of his children.
“There will be no real peace or reconciliation unless the government treats all of its citizens on an equal basis and respects their civil rights.”
(Courtesy ucanews)

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