Monday, February 22, 2010

Sri Lanka: Clueless IDPs and govt. resettlement plans

By Ranga Jayasuriya - The government pledged to resettle former residents of Wanni, in their former villages by the end of January 31. They were earlier herded into tightly guarded camps in Vavunia. On the surface, the government seems to have lived up to its undertaking —at least a part of it.

Civilians have been granted freedom of movement and many of the once teeming camps have now been emptied.

But, in the resettled villages, it is a different spectacle: Over hundred thousand civilians, former inmates in camps are virtually dumped on their former villages in the Wanni, and are left without any means to resume normal lives.

With their houses no longer intact, their property destroyed and vandalized, it is an uphill task for the resettled Tamils to restart their lives.

When this correspondent visited the resettled villages on the A 9 Road, it was a waste-land that awaited him. The majority of the houses had been reduced to rubble. A few skeletons of concrete buildings stood where former towns were located. No building was left with the roof intact. Kilinochchi is a ghost town of war wrecked buildings, except for the soldiers and pilgrims heading for Nagadeepa on the A 9 Road.

It is a land of shattered hopes and crumbled homes.

Sinnaiah Velu was released from the IDP camp in December last year along with his family. Originally from Nedunkerny, Olumadu, they were told that their land is still being demined. Hence, the family was left abandoned in Parissamkulam, near Kanagarayan kulam, where they now live in a makeshift hut and collect fire wood to make ends meet. “People from Jaffna come to buy firewood,” he says.

He said he was not given a plot of land to cultivate as he was not a resident from the area, which leaves him having to rely on the jungle to make living.

But, mines and booby traps in the jungle pose a mortal threat. Last week, two civilians lost their limbs from landmines.

The Sinnaiahs are one among 65 families from Nedunkerny living on the A 9 road in Parrisamkulam, awaiting green light to proceed to their villages.

Sinnaiah like most other IDPs have received 25,000 rupees start up allowance. But, the fact of the matter is that it is too little and it could hardly better the IDPs case, who is left with nothing but the cloth on his back. The only exceptions to groups with such a fate are those with access to foreign remittance.

Another 25,000 rupees is being paid to the IDPs for doing 50 days of social work, ten days of which could be utilized to rebuild and clean their own houses.

Additional Government Agent (Vavuniya North), K Paranthaman says that the government would provide a grant of 325,000 rupees each to rebuild houses, and that the evaluation report has already been sent to Colombo. Housing is the acid test for the government. The resettled former IDPs take shelter in tents and huts, but the monsoon would complicate the situation. A few could, of course, afford to build houses on their own, but the vast majority would be condemned to live in shacks. Many civilians, this correspondent spoke to were clueless about the government’s resettlement plans.

On the surface, it looks like the camp life had been shifted to Kanagarayan kulam. But, there is some work, though at its incipient age. There are 20 or so Grama Sevaka Divisions in the Vavuniya North AGA Division, only in nine of which, resettlement activities have commenced, owning to landmines. Resettlement had commenced only on the left side of the A 9 road and the demining activities are being carried out on the other side.

IDPs are given paddy land to cultivate. Every family is given 2 acres and the government provides seed free of charge. Farming has commenced in many places.

K. Ganesh (40), a resettled villager in Kanagarayankulam says that he has resumed farming.

Weidyalingam Nithyanathan (42) another resettled villager asks for a water pump to water his vegetable plot. But he and many other IDPs complain that they had not received food rations for past two weeks.

Many of the resettled villagers carry old scars of war; many were caught in shelling as they fled the Tiger controlled pocket.

K. Rathan (28) originally from Nedunkerny shows his still festering wounds in the legs. He says battle scars had prevented him from working in the paddy fields. Another villager says he was evacuated to safety by the ICRC relief ship at the height of war. But, he mourns for his son, who is still missing and feared to be killed in the final days of the battle.

In the face of scarce resources, there is competition. A middle aged couple -- residents of Nedunkerny --- complained to the AGA that locals didn’t allow them to use the well.

The AGA tells this correspondent that it was a sign of caste differences, a perennial trait of the Tamil polity, which the LTTE reined in to greater extend, but is showing up, even before people emerge from the wreckage of war.

The Assistant Government Agent vows that a resettlement package is in the offing and that he would commence a vocational training program for the resettled youth to find employment in the host of construction activities soon to take place in the war torn Wanni.

But, some IDPs are yet to make up their minds after the end of a vicious war and a wretched camp life. Some have lost their kith and kin to the war; some others are still unaccounted for, while others languish in detention.

© Lakbima News

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