Sri Lanka: Vanni In The Year After War: Tears Of Despair And Fear

By Ruki

(Groundviews) — About six  months after the end of the war, in November 2009, the government of Sri  Lanka relaxed restrictions on travel to the Vanni[1]  and started to  allow some of the displaced people to go back to their villages.

Although the government still maintains some restrictions on travel, I  managed to visit these areas many times. My visits including overnight  stay in Vanni without beds, attached bathrooms, running water,  electricity, helped me to better experience and understand life there  after the war. It also increased my admiration for some of my friends,  Catholic priests and sisters, who warmly welcomed and hosted me and my  friends every time we visited, despite the very basic and difficult life  they had opted to live.

My visits took me to interior villages deep inside the Vanni. From  Paranthan on the A9 road to Ponneryn, and then further south on the A32  road, down to Vidathalthivu, visiting villages such as Mulangavil,  Thevanpiddy. We also visited villages and towns such as Mallawi,  Thunukai, Uruthirapuram Sannar, Eechalavakai. In the Mannar district, we  went to Adampan, Alkataveli, Uylankulam etc. East of the A9 road, in  the Mullativu district, we visited places such as Oddusudan,  Katsilaimadu and upto Vattapalai on the A34 road.

The A9 road was crowded with buses, vans and even luxurious vehicles  such as Prado, Defenders etc. I had talked with some and most appeared  to be tourists from the south going to Jaffna. Name boards from buses  indicated the variety of places they were coming from, practically all  districts of Sri Lanka. Many were picnicking under shady trees on the  roadside, others admiring war monuments built by the military.

However, I saw no tourists and luxurious vehicles along the dusty,  broken and bumpy roads beyond the A9 road. Every time I went in a van,  after the journey, the drivers told me they will have to send the van  for repairs and service! The times I went by motorbike, it was a bit  easier to negotiate the gaping holes on the roads, though the dust, heat  and sitting upright for hours was not so comfortable.

What’s hidden beyond the A9?

On most occasions as we turned from the A9 road or from the Mannar –  Medwachiya road to go interior villages, it seemed to arouse suspicion  and curiosity in soldiers. Familiar questions of earlier years, such as  “where are you going?” “why are you going?” “who are you” were thrown at  us. Our response that we are going to visit friends didn’t appear to be  a satisfactory answer. In the Vanni, it seems to be considered  something abnormal and suspicious to visit friends!

My Tamils friends from the North found these questions offensive.

“This is our land, our people are living here, these soldiers are from  outside, how dare they ask us all these questions and stop us? Why can’t  I visit my place? Why can’t I visit my relatives and friends? Why can’t  I invite friends (meaning me)?” were the angry and frustrated refrain I  was to hear often from my friends.

Most of my friends were Christian priest and sisters, some of them were  going to their own places, own land and houses. Places they had grown  up, and their families had been living and still lived. These were also  areas where they had served their religious and social ministries and  their colleagues were now living and working in very difficult  circumstances.

The fact that I was Sinhalese from Colombo seemed to arouse further  suspicions and curiosity amongst the soldiers.

We asked why they were trying to stop us from visiting, especially as  these were areas formally declared as areas cleared of land mines and  people were already living there.

“We don’t know, we just follow orders” was the inevitable response. Some  of the soldiers were apologetic. On several occasions, it was mentioned  that we have to get permission from the Ministry of Defense or that we  should go to a nearby Brigade Headquarters and get special permission or  a pass.

My friends and I tried to maintain our composure and sometimes soldiers  at the check points tried to help us by contacting their superiors while  we waited patiently. Some occasions, soldiers did their best to sooth  our frustration by offering us chairs, chatting to us and giving us tips  about how bad the roads were! I didn’t think they had anything else to  offer. On one occasion, we waited for about 30 minutes near Paranthan on  the A9 road and one solider rode on a bicycle to inform the checkpoint  that the commander had given a special permission for us to proceed to  Uruthirapuram. On another occasion, me and a priest friend from Mannar  waited in vain in the hot sun for about an hour at the Mankulam junction  check point awaiting permission to visit the recently returned people  in Oddusudan. The permission never came and we left the embarrassed and  apologetic soldiers at the checkpoint and turned back. On yet another  occasion, we waited patiently at a barrier in Vattapalai in the  Mullativu district for about 30minutes, again while the officer on duty  contacted his superiors and that superiors contacted his superior. We  wanted to proceed to Killinochi through the shortest road through  Puthukudiruppu that we learnt was already open, but not for civilians.  Permission never came and we finally turned back and took the longer  route through Mankulam. When we turned back and went, some officers on  duty offered to call us on our mobile phones if they did get permission  from their superiors to allow us through, but we never got a call. On  several other occasions, the soldiers or officers at the checkpoints  consented to allow us to proceed after some initial hesitation.

Anyways, like we did with the LTTE during the time they were in control  of the Vanni and restricting travel to Mullativu and other interior  villages, my friends and I did manage to negotiate with those trying to  stop us and visit our friends in the interior villages.

Militarization

On most roads inside the Vanni, whether on the A9 or interior roads, I  felt as if we were travelling within a military camp. Military camps and  check posts were along all the roads.

In Pooneryn, the main road literally ran through a newly built Army  camp. In several other places including the A9 road, army camps occupied  the main tarred road and we as civilians were forced to take a  roundabout route, on muddy dusty makeshift pathways. In the more bushy  and jungle areas, sign boards on the roadside indicated military camps  inside the jungles.

Soldiers were everywhere with uniforms and with weapons. Some soldiers  were in civil but were easily identifiable through the gun on their  shoulders, even as they were walking or riding their bicycles. Other  soldiers were relaxing, playing cricket and bathing in small streams.  The buildings that were in the best conditions were all military and  police structures. I could very well empathize with what one elderly  gentleman in Mulangavil told me; “it looks as if it’s their (military)  land and we are strangers, while the truth is they are occupying our  land”.

Clearly, the military has less to do on military matters now. I saw and  heard in several places that the military is assisting with road  construction, distributing water, organizing cultural and sports events  etc. I also heard of efforts of some military officials to assist  civilians in their basic needs. In view of the massive needs of the  population for basic services and infrastructure, and the very weak  civil administration and reluctance of the government to allow NGOs  access to help those in need, people are compelled to depend on the  military for even basic services like water.

Security fears

The huge military presence, with past experiences of abuses, has caused  deep rooted fear amongst many of civilians I spoke to.  “We are scared  to have young girls and boys walk around in the dark” one mother told  us.

Catholic sisters who had gone to be with the people had sent additional  reinforcements, as they didn’t want sisters to be alone.

“I was accused several times by the Army intelligence of being in the  LTTE. Another boy was also accused. The Army had also told a villager  that I would be taken away. I’m scared and don’t go anywhere alone” was  what one man in Kathalampiddy, close to Vidathalthivu told us. “Although  only two people had been threatened, the whole village is now scared”  another woman from the village told us.

“Will the Army leave soon?” one anxious young man asked me, to which I  had no answer.

Snakes have also instilled fear in several villages in visited. In one  village I visited, snake bites had caused two deaths and several  injuries.

Sexual abuse

“In front of our own eyes, and inside our premises, the army was  touching a young girl…so what would happen if we are also not there” one  Catholic sister asked me when I met her in the Vanni.

Amidst the huge military presence, one lady was raped in newly resettled  area of Alkataveli, close to Adampan and north of Mannar and one person  was killed in Killinochi. The checkpoint and soldiers with their guns  had been unable to prevent or bring perpetrators to justice. An incident  of sexual abuse by a soldier in Nachikuda was narrated to me. I heard  of other incidents of rape, sexual abuse, killings, but could not get  confirmation.

Two young female students we spoke to complained that they felt they  were being harassed by regular requests to see identity cards as they  cycle to school in nearby Illupaikadavai. “They don’t ask the boys, they  only ask girls, even when they know we don’t have identity cards at our  age, and they know who we are. It seems they are trying to flirt with  us” one girl said.

Happy to be back…but incomplete return

Most of the people I met would start conversations with bright smiles,  saying they are happy to be back in their own land, despite all they  have lost and the adverse circumstances.

But as we continued to listen to them and be with them, we would often  be left speechless and helpless, as tears welled up in their eyes.

Most families had returned incomplete. Not just without properties, but  also without their loved ones who had been killed, missing and detained.

Discriminating the dead

Many of the people I met in Vanni had parents, children, brothers and  sisters, grandparents and other close family members killed during the  final months of the war in 2009. It almost seemed normal and inevitable  in most of the villages I visited in Vanni.

Since 2006, I had met families of Sinhalese killed in claymore attacks,  suicide bombings by LTTE in rural villages such as Kebidogollwe,  Moneragela. The sorrow I experienced with them and with the Tamils in  Vanni was not very different. The tears and sorrow didn’t seem to have  an ethnic dimension.

But how the society and government deal with these certainly seems to be  on ethnic lines.

Society and the government had been quick to condemn killings by the  LTTE and mourn with the grieving families. Sinhalese people killed by  claymore attacks, suicide bombings had got death certificates,  compensation from government and even business groups. They all had  funerals, often with media coverage, even state patronage. I had seen  these on TV, in newspapers, and saw and heard from family members and  villagers. I felt these were some basic measures, even though we all  know lives lost can never be compensated.

But there seems to be a reluctance of Sri Lankan society and the  government to mourn and grieve with the Tamils who had lost thousands of  loved ones within a few months. The large number of Tamils killed don’t  have death certificates, no compensation, no funerals. “We had no time  to mourn, leave alone a funeral. We had to run over the dead bodies,  just to save our own lives” one woman whose two children were killed  told us.

“About 25 have been killed in this Grama Seweka division. I can easily  collect the details of those who have been killed in the village,  witnesses etc., and assist people to get death certificates and  compensation. But I have not got any instructions from the government. I  think the government wants to cover up that so many people were killed.  Im scared to do anything by myself as I might fall into trouble” said  one Gramw Seweka in a village in Manthai West division when I asked him  about this.

I tried to find out procedures for obtaining death certificates, but was  not successful. In the Vidathalthivu area, I was told there was a  mobile clinic to issue birth and death certificates, but that all  applications for death certificates were rejected.

Families of those missing, detained, injured

Families of those killed were not the only ones who were crying.

Many didn’t know where their loved ones were living or dead. And if they  are living, where they are. Most had seen their children, husband,  brother etc., go off with the army. Subsequently, they had searched in  IDP camps, detention centres, hospitals, with relatives. Except few,  many had failed to find their loved ones.

“I live crying everyday, and searching for my 3rd son. He was injured  and taken to a hospital by the armed forces. I heard that he was in  Mannar hospital and I went there. With help of Police there, I could  find the name of my son on the register. I was told by the hospital that  the Army had taken him away after getting him discharged. But I  couldn’t find the Army officers who had taken him. I can’t find my son.  Who will find my son? There are so many mothers and fathers in this  situation. Can those who have elections find our children?” was what a  mother from Krishnapuram told us.

In April, I and some friends joined an 67 year old man now in Zone 4 of  Menik Farm IDP camp (Chettikulam, Vauniya district) to find his missing  son. We went to Padaviya hospital where the son had been admitted after  being evacuated from the Vanni by the ICRC in March 2009. Padaviya  hospital records showed that the son, who was mentally retarded and  unable to walk, was indeed admitted and had been transferred to Vavuniya  hospital. When we came to Vavuniya hospital, there are no records of  such a person being admitted.

Many others I met had similar stories.

In every village, I would also meet people whose children and family  members are being detained, for almost a year and some for many years.  They have not been charges in court of law. And have limited access to  friends, family and no access to ICRC and lawyers.

“I have come back to my village. I could probably build my house. But my  son is a prisoner. I don’t know when he will be allowed to come home.  First the LTTE took him and now the Army has taken him. How can I be  happy at coming back when my son is still a prisoner and I don’t know  what will happen to him” asked a mother with tears in her eyes.

Each time I visit the office of the National Human Rights Commision  (NHRC) in Jaffna and Vavuniya, I run into anxious families, glancing  through the list the NHRC had displayed. This list has a round one  thousand names of people being detained in Boosa detention camp and  elsewhere. But the governments officials have claimed over 10,000 are  detained in Vavuniya alone. Many thousands more are in detention  facilities all over the country.

But these helpless families don’t have access to a centralized list with  any government or independent agency, to check and see whether their  children or loved ones are in any official detention facility.

Fear of Sinhalese domination

In the interiors of Vanni, I could see many sign boards in Sinhalese.  Despite the fact that almost all the civilians in Vanni are Tamil  speaking now, Tamil language was visibly absent in many sign boards.

Some places and names had been given new Sinhalese names by the  military. As I took a photo of a signboard in Sinhalese marked “Ali  handiya” (meaning elephant junction) Along the Mankulam – Mullativu  road, an army officer rushed to stop us and asked us why were taking  photographs. We asked in turn about this board. “The Tamil name is too  long and complicated, so when we took control of this area, we put this  name, as this is much easier for us” was his explanation. My friend from  Mullativu was inside the van, but kept quiet, but he couldn’t hide his  anger and hurt afterwards.

Some of the signboards in Sinhalese are those with names of Sinhalese  soldiers. Gamini Kularatne Mawatha in Pampaimottai and Ranawiru  Abeysundara Mawatha in Kalliyadi are examples. When I asked a villager  what this meant, he said he thought it was their village name written in  Sinhalese, and was shocked when I told him that it was not the village  name, but a Sinhalese soldier’s name.

At the Mankulam junction on the A9 road, there is a signboard in all  three languages. But in addition to the usual and accepted Sinhalese  names, the board also mentions older Sinhalese names. “This is an  attempt to show that these lands are Sinhalese lands” one Tamil priest  told me.

Foremost place to Buddhism even in Hindu and Christian villages

A striking feature along the A9 road, in the Killinochi town is the  large arch proclaiming “May Buddhism shine”. From what I understood from  the civilians I spoke to, vast majority of the civilians were Hindus  and a significant number Christian. However, there were of course no  arches or boards proclaiming “May Hinduism shine” or “May Christianity  shine”. The Lumbini Viharaya, the Buddhist shrine in Killinochi town was  spick and span and was obviously being given a lot of attention.

Compared to this, the Hindu kovils and Christian churches were visibly  in bad shape, some were abandoned and buildings damaged.

Along the A9 road and the smaller roads in the interior villages, new  and shining Buddhist monuments and statutes were visible. All of these  were villages with large majority of Hindu and Christian civilian  populations. I saw soldiers cleaning up an area in Mankulam with a Bo  Tree, probably to put up ayet another Buddha statue.

There was even a Buddhist dagaba in the premises of a Catholic Church  which was occupied by the Army when I first visited Manthai West AGA  division in Mannar district, immediately after people were allowed to go  back. 09.

I have a lot of respect for Buddhism. But I wonder why Buddhism has to  given such a prominent in villages where the civilian population is  predominantly Hindu and Christian? Is it because our constitution has a  clause saying “foremost place to Buddhism”? Or to show that Buddhism is  the religion in Sri Lanka and people in Vanni had better learn to accept  it now?

New monuments for the Army and destruction of dead Tamil militants  cemeteries

Along the A9 road such as in Killinochi and Elephant pass as well as in  interior villages such as Pooneryn, there were monuments built by the  military. These symbolize victory for the military and the government,  but for most of the Tamils I spoke to these monuments symbolize  domination of their lands by the Army. And glorification of a war that  killed and injured thousands of their loved ones.

There were no monuments for the thousands of Tamil civilians who were  killed and went missing in the war. I asked many times, in many places  from many people about any monuments to remember the thousands of Tamil  civilians killed and gone missing, but there were none.

Making this worse is the destruction of cemeteries with dead LTTE cadres  by the Army. I saw at least one in Vanni, while I had seen such  destructions in Jaffna as well. Despite it’s brutality and record of  violence & killings, the LTTE had a tradition of respecting it’s  dead cadres and this had provided family members and friends to visit  the graves of their loved ones and conduct religious and cultural  rituals, especially on special days such as birthday and day of death.  Now, family members are compelled to gaze emptily at gravel heaped  together.

Re-displacement and occupation of land by Army

In my most recent visit to the Vanni, earlier this week, I went to  Eechalavakai, along the Periyamadu Road from Vidathalthivu, in the  Mannar district. There, I met some people who were still living in tents  in a common village land as displaced persons. Amongst them was a 10  day old infant.

“We were told by the Divisional Secretary that we can go back to our  lands. So we came from the camps. But when we came and started to clean  up the land, the land we have been living for more than 25 years, the  Army came and told us to go away. When we asked why, they told us that  they are going to take our land for a Army Camp” one villager told us.

Later, we were shown their lands, in nearby Sannar, where notices were  pinned to trees saying “This land is reserved for Army”

Houses

Most of the houses had been damaged. Most people I met were living in  temporary make shifts tents built with canvas and tin sheets provided  with foreign aid. Many more were living in makeshift houses that were  damaged. When I first visited Adampan, some people were living in a  church.

We also saw a number of houses destroyed. Some were totally destroyed  and will have to be built from scratch. Others were partly destroyed,  but parts still standing.

I was told by people that while some houses were damaged during actual  warfare. In case of other houses, people had just abandoned their houses  and left as the Army advanced. Several had been converted as bunkers by  the LTTE. Others had been occupied by the Army. Some are still occupied  by the Army.

Basically, there was hardly any house that was in good shape that I saw.  Except some that were occupied by the Army.

“The house we built had to be abandoned during the last phase of the  war. When we came back, the house had no roofs, windows, doors. There  was not much fighting in these areas. Who took these? Why did they take  these? What was the connection between war, terrorism, LTTE and the  roof, windows and doors of our house?” questioned a Principal of a  school close to Killinoch town.

“When we came back (after displacement), we found that roofs, doors,  windows of all houses were missing, except one house. The remaining  house with roof was because the army had used it as their camp. Valuable  household items were also missing” commented a middle age man from  Vattapalai, close to Mullativu. Another middle aged man from  Katsilaimadu, also close to Mullativu showed visible anger as he told us  “I have heard that doors, windows etc. is available for sale. This  means selling our own things that were stolen from us. There was no war  in these areas, we left everything. Walls of houses are there. But  nothing else.”

Education

Along the A9 road and along the interiors, we saw many school children.  Some schools buildings had been renovated some had not been repaired  after been damaged or abandoned. And there were many classes being held  in the open air under trees.

In one of my visits to Thevanpiddy, I was surprised to hear that that  the whole Church, the residence of the priest and even the garden was  being used for the school, as the school itself had been damaged. In a  subsequent visit this week, I learnt that some classes are still  conducted inside the Church.

One of my friends from Jaffna, is now teaching in this school. “We do  our best to teach our children. But we who try to educate the children  have no hostel or proper facilities to stay, while the Army and Police  have good buildings” lamented my friend, who stays the weekdays in the  makeshift school and travels every weekend to Jaffna to be with his  family.

We had the chance to chat with several students, teachers and principals  and one Deputy Zonal Director of Education, who I met by coincidence in  the train I was travelling to go to Vanni. Below are some of the  stories we heard:

* In Panikankulam Government Tamil Mixed School, along the A9  road, we found that there are 19 teachers for 18 students. However,  teachers have to travel 2-3 hours, and some even more, from Jaffna and  Vavuniya, on a daily basis. A free bus service was provided till the  Presidential elections of 26th January, but since then, the teachers  have to spend a major portion of their salary for transport.

* But in other schools, there was a clear lack of teachers.  One Principal there were no teachers for Mathematics, Science and  English

* We met some students (aged 17-18) who had sat for the G.C.E  Ordinary Level examination in December 2009, and were now volunteering  as substitutes for teachers

* At the time we visited in February, we learnt that only 10  of the 54 schools in the Thunukai division had started. 18 out of 29  were functioning in the Poonagary division.

* At least in two schools, we heard that children walk at  least 8km a day (4km either way) to go to  school, as there is no bus  service or any other transport system

* Some children have also been compelled to travel far to  distant schools, as schools in their villages had not reopened

* Several children told us that they had not received text  books or even copy books

* We observed that some children were in school uniform,  while others were not in uniform. “Many children don’t have uniforms,  they have not been given uniforms and parents don’t have livelihoods and  can’t afford to buy school uniforms. So we allow them to come without  uniform” explained one Principal

* Most of the support for students comes not from the  government, but from UN. The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) was providing  mid day meals to some school students. One Principal told us the WFP  subsidy comprises rice, dhal and cooking oil and is an average of Rs.  2.00 per student

* UNICEF provides most other materials, from mats for  children to sit on (both indoors and classes under trees) as well as  school bags, books, tools etc.

* Several Principals and teachers also told us about teachers  and children who had been killed and injured during the last months of  the war. Principals also reported about their students who had been  abducted /recruited by the LTTE. One Principal added some students  forcibly recruited are now detained by the government

Military restaurants and people’s restaurants

One of the initial sources of livelihood when people went back to  villages in the Vanni were the small tea shops that they set up along  the A9 road and other roads.

But these were overshadowed by the bigger, better looking and better  equipped “Janaavanhalas” (People’s restaurants) put up by the military.  Each and every time I go along the A9. There appeared to be more  military run restaurants than before. In the small Paranthan junction,  there were around 10 such restaurants, run by various divisions,  brigades of the military.

“We have nothing, had to start from scratch and wanted to slowly build  up business. The Army has the resources to put up big structures,  refrigerators, tables, and chairs etc., also people to work. Visitors  coming in buses and vans from the south go to the bigger restaurants run  by the Army. Most of the visitors are Sinhalese from the south and  maybe they prefer to go to the restaurants run by the Sinhalese  soldiers. So although thousands of buses and vans go on the A9 road, we  have very little business and it’s very difficult to build up and  develop our tea shop” was the grievance of one elderly women, at whose  small and basic tea shop I had stopped to have some tea.

Cultivation and fishing

As I visited the Vanni, I was struck by the fertile land and greenery,  especially around Adampan. It was refreshing to see that some farmers  had already started cultivation in these areas.

However, in most parts of Killinochi and Mullativu, there was no  cultivation yet and I heard despairing farmers waiting to start  cultivation. Some had received some agricultural tools, but no seeds.  Most importantly, many still didn’t have access to their farmland. Some  remain occupied by the Army, some areas are claimed to be still not  demined and other areas simply declared off limits without reasons.

Fisherfolk on the western coast have been more fortunate in terms of  easing of restrictions since the end of the war. Restrictions still  apply however, such as around Iranathivu, Periyathivu, Sinnathivu, all  of which are occupied by the Navy.

Some fishermen complained to us that the Navy had beaten them. “We  thought the restrictions were lifted and went nearby these fertile areas  for fishing. But we were beaten by the Navy and told we can’t fish  there as the area belongs to the Navy. At least they could have informed  us without beating us” was what a group of fisherman told us.

A major problem these people face is the lack of boats and nets, as most  of these had been abandoned when they fled for their lives. Most boats  and nets were lost, while others are damaged. Some said boats had been  stolen. “There were about 250 boats in our village, but now, there are  only 3 left” one fisherman told us. Another fisherman told us that they  can earn about Rs. 1,000.00 per day when they go fishing, but they only  get the chance to go once a week on average, due to lack of boats.

Government servants such as the Grama Sewekas, Divisional and District  Secretaries and their staff, health officials, teachers and education  officials have also returned to work.

Freedom of Association

The government is also trying to restrict any peaceful mobilization,  collective action of empowerment of people in the Vanni.

The Presidential Task Force headed by the President’s brother Basil  Rajapakse had granted permission to some NGOs to launch some projects to  assist people in need of assistance. “But permission has been granted  only to build houses and infrastructure and start income generating  activities. Permission has been rejected for counseling, capacity  building and empowerment activities. So we are restricted in what we can  do” said one head of an NGO based in Mannar, which is keen to assist  people in Vanni.

“We tried to start a small association to help people who were helpless.  But the army doesn’t allow us to meet” an elderly gentleman told us in  Vattapalai, close to the Mullativu town.

What does the future hold for Vanni?

Vanni people had suffered a lot. Under the authoritarian rule of the  LTTE when people, including children, were forcibly recruited to fight,  dissent was punished and many lived in poverty. Then during the war,  where entire villages were displaced more than ten times, some had been  injured, all had lost properties, and most have had their loves ones  killed, missing and detained.

So people I met in Vanni are happy that the bombings and shelling have  ceased. They are relieved to have been allowed to go back, after  multiple displacement and subsequent detention by the government.

But they still face an uncertain and fearful future.

Most people in interior villages live isolated lives, surrounded  soldiers they fear. Men live in fear of being abducted or detained.  Women and girls live in fear of sexual abuse. They also fear domination  of their lives, lands and culture by the Sinhalese and Buddhists.

Students are concerned about access to educational facilities. Farmers  and fisherfolk await opportunities to engage in their traditional  livelihoods.

Even those who had suffered under the LTTE and had opposed the LTTE are  saddened as the cemeteries of Tamil militants are destroyed and  monuments are built by the military and for Sinhalese soldiers

And the despair and fear worsens as the rest of country prepares for a  massive celebration of a war victory, while people in the Vanni cry over  their dead family members, try to trace their missing family members,  try to recover from their injuries, await release of detained family  members.

Divisions between Sinhalese & Tamils, North & South become  clearer as the Sinhalese in the South celebrate and Tamils in North  mourn for the same occasion. If Sri Lanka is a home to one family, where  Sinhalese and Tamils are brothers and sisters, what we might see on the  occasion of one year since the end of the war is something like having a  funeral and a wedding in two rooms of the same house for two children  of the same family.

One year after the end of the war, reconciliation would be a hollow and  empty word unless concerns such as the above are not addressed.

This report is based on many visits to villages in the Vanni between  November – May 2010 and was published in Groundviews, a Sri Lankan citizen  journalism initiative.

[1] Vanni is the term commonly used for areas previously controlled by  the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The area comprised the  whole districts of Kilinochi and Mullativu and parts of Mannar and  Vavuniya districts.


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