Mines, apathy balk temple zone re-settlers

[TamilNet, Friday, 06 September 2002, 19:02 GMT]
Hundreds of families that were driven out of the environs of the historic Thiruketheeswaram temple in Mannar twelve years ago by Sri Lanka army operations are unable to go back to their villages because their paddy fields are mined and homes have been razed to the ground, rehabilitation officials in the district said.

The Trustee Board of Thiruketheeswaram asked the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in Mannar last week that the SLA should allow families of persons who serve the temple to resettle in its precincts so that the daily homage rituals to the deities could be resumed. The SLA brigade command in Mannar had subsequently informed the SLMM that it had no objection to resettlement of the villages in near the temple.

The Thiruketheeswaram village officers division in which the temple is situated comprises the hamlets of Thiruketheeswaram, Maanthai, Kottaikkaddu, Moolaithottam and Ellupiddy, covering about 17 square kilometres of fertile fields and grazing land.

More than seven hundred families were driven out of the area by the SLA in 1990. Many fled to India as refugees. Others live in Murunkan, Mannar town and in the LTTE controlled Vanni.

Government officials have little information about the refugees from the general area of Thiruketheeswaram.

The refugees say they want to go back to their villages as early as possible to reclaim their homesteads, paddy fields and cattle and lift themselves out of the poverty that has dogged them since they fled their villages twelve years ago.

“But our paddy fields are full of land mines sown by the army. Our homes are mounds of rubble. There is no school for the children. The army has demolished our village school – the Gowriambaal Paadasalai. Our cattle are still roaming wild. How do we resettle in these circumstances? Foreign de-miners are going to Jaffna because it is a politically important place. Who will help us go back home and start life again on our land?” asked Mr. Rasaiah Navaratnam, a refugee.

The refugees from hamlets around the Thiruketheeswaram village division are beset by the same woes, though they too are desirous of speedy resettlement.

More than a thousand families fled SLA operations to establish extensive defence lines and positions in the villages of Sirunavatkulam, Nagathaalvu, Vattathaalvu, Pallankulam, Velikamam, Mullipallam, Periya Navatkulam, Kalaiperumal Kulam, Kollankulam and Cheddiyar Kandal.

“We were able to visit our villages until 1992. Then the army built a base in Thiruketheeswaram and declared our villages as a no go military zone. We were completely prohibited from going near the area since then”, a refugee from Sirunavatkulam told Tamilnet.

A local official said that according to old estimates at least four thousand cattle that belong to the villagers here are roaming wild in the area, many of them maimed by land mines. “No one was able to retrieve the herds because of army restrictions” he said.

 

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