Feature Article

Battle for Vaharai

[TamilNet, Monday, 01 January 2007, 11:35 GMT]
Vaharai, a large backwater on Sri Lanka’s east coast, is an area with large fertile fields, lagoons and virgin forests in the northern part of the Batticaloa district. More than 15,000 residents and IDPs are now trapped in Vaharai as the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) conducts its brutal campaign to evict Tamils from the region, closing A-15 the main access road to the town, and imposing economic embargo, while Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) kfirs fly bombing raids terrorizing the civilians to flee. "They [LTTE] won't be able to keep the civilians for long. Food and medicine is in short supply," Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe, the top military spokesman, told Reuters in a interview Friday.

"It's a matter of time now. It could be days, or weeks, but we will get there," the miltary spokesperson further told Reuters.

Vaharai Map
The villages of Kayankerni, Mankerni, Pannichchankerni, Vaharai, Kandalady, Paalchenai and Kathiravelly lie along A-15 (from south to north). Several small villages dot the hinterlands of Vakarai region. The Uppaar lagoon separates the coast and the hinterland. Vakarai village proper lies east of the lagoon by the coast.

More than 40,000 people from the LTTE controlled Muthur East area in Trincomalee district became displaced and fled to Vaharai in LTTE controlled Batticaloa district following the offensive of SLA and aerial bombings by Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) in July and August. They were housed at temporary Refugee Camps erected at Kathiravely, Palchenai, Vammivedduvan, Kandalady and Vaharai.

Battle for Vaharai
Temperary shelter for IDPs in Vaharai
The more than 3000 families holed up in the beseiged town appealed to Colombo to allow relief agencies to enter the region to provide urgent relief.

Mrs. Nalliah Sivamani, 38, a mother of 5 children, told TamilNet: "We led a prosperous life in Muthur east until fighting brokeout between Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam. We fled to Vaharai after undergoing many hardships. We have been close to starvation several times, and fear for our lives from SLA shelling.”

Another IDP, Sivalingam Sivagnanam, 45, of Eechchilampattu in Trincomalee district said: "My wife and I, with our four children, fled to Kathiravely one night because of heavy shelling and artillery attack by the Army in Eechchilampattu area."

"When we were staying at Kathiravely, we lost one of our daughters, Mathivathany Sivagnanam, 14, on shell attack launched from Kallar SLA camp. Then we fled to Palchenai and stayed in the Refugee Camp. On 10 December around 7:30 am, we heard sounds of explosion and saw smoke everywhere. My three children, and I, along with my wife, in confusion ran aimlessly, and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I saw myself admitted at Vaharai District hospital where I was told that my leg was broken due to gunshot. I do not know what happened to my wife and children."

Vaharai was subjected to more than fifteen years of a brutal counter insurgency campaign by the Sri Lanka army.

Battle for Vaharai
Dr. V. Varathan, the administrator of Vaharai Government hospital, said that SLA shelling on 10 and 11 December, killed 40 people. 75 were admitted to the hospital with serious injuries, he added.

"We needed blood to treat the severely injured persons but without facilities to store blood it is impossible to carryout emergency operations. I have already informed the Department of Health Services and the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) the need to transfer the severely injured patients out to medical institutions with adequate facilities."

Ms. Shanthi Sinnathurai, 27, of Kadatkaraichchenai in Trincomalee district was another IDP caught in the Vaharai nightmare. "Our mother looks after my sister and me. My 67-year-old grandmother is also with us. My father died long ago due to illness. We fled to Kathiravely due to continued shelling and fighting in our area.

Battle for Vaharai
IDPs cook food in open air.
"When we were at Vammivedduvan Refugee Camp, we heard heavy firing and shelling on the morning of 10 December. We saw people from the direction of Palchenai Refugee Camp running away carrying dead bodies and injured persons. We followed them, but my grandmother, unable to run, came slowly. While we were running along the road, a shell exploded near us. Some people ran away faster screaming and some fell down on the road. As we run away faster, another shell exploded with thundering sound and smoke. I fell down on the roadside and, when the smoke subsided, we saw our grandmother blown to pieces."

Tragedy has struck Vakarai region again as it was trying to rise from ashes after being subjected to the long counter insurgency campaign by the Sri Lanka army. The SLA massacred seventeen villagers, including six children, and burnt and razed to the ground Thoni Thaattamadu, an impoverished Tamil hamlet on the east coast’s remote interior on May 27, 1987.

Vaharai was a key LTTE stronghold in the eastern province since the army vacated its camp here in 1995 after the Liberation Tigers overran several SLA camps in the region. In 1998 June the army moved from Valaichenai, 32 kilometers north of Batticaloa, along the coastal road to Vakarai about 26 kilometers further north.

Battle for Vaharai
The aim of this operation, according to SLA analysts, was to cut off the LTTE's main supply point to the Vanni from the east coast.

Despite four years of ceasefire development is a bitter struggle for the people of Vakarai. Electricity is still a luxury. The development of fishing industry is hampered by the lack of electricity to the coastal areas.

Now, Vaharai battle is set to intensify destroying whatever little progress that have been achieved. Liberation Tigers have warned that further SLA offensive will result in an all out war breaking out.


Chronology:
15.01.07  Unfolding misery
11.01.07  Vaharai tragedy
07.01.07  SOS from Vaharai


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