[TamilNet, Sunday, 25 February 2007, 01:01 GMT]
More than 200 civilians were killed and hundreds of others injured in the five-month long Sri Lanka military offensive carried out in sea, air and land on Vaharai and adjoining coastal hamlets. Nearly 40,000 IDPs stay in 49 temporary shelters and with friends and relatives elsewhere in the military controlled part of Batticaloa district. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Vaharai and neighboring Trincomalee district express resentment over the inequity in reimbursing relief and compensation by Sri Lanka Government authorities.
Vaharai is the second largest Divisional Secretariat division in the district, comprising 21% of the land area. However, the population of the Division is low compared to other divisions, and more than 70% of Vaharai residents live below poverty line. Shortage of teachers during the past decade has resulted in low literacy rate.
Vaharai lies 75 km north of Batticaloa bordering Trincomalee district in the north and Polannaruwa district in the west. The only trunk road passes through this area is A- 15, the Trincomalee- Batticaloa Road and the branches of Mahavali Gangai, the longest river in Sri Lanka severs the road at two places i.e. at Verugal and Kiliveddy.
Even though the Division has abundance of seafoods and wild life, due to the location and inadequate infrastructure, the area is under developed. The three decade of war too has contributed to the low-levels of development and the dire economic situation.
Attracted by the beautiful flora and fauna, the former Premier of Sri Lanka, Mrs. Srima Bandaranayake built a personal circuit bungalow in Vaharai. Sinhalese were settled at Kajuwatta (a Sinhala term means cashew estate), adjoining Panichchenkerny, under the pretext of cashew promotion in the fertile lands. The abundance of seafoods too attracted many Sinhala businesspersons and seasonal fishermen to this area.
The elite groups of the society used this area for hunting.
Those who voluntarily setup home Vaharai region went back with the wealth, but the poor natives continued to live under poverty line.
Vaharai gave shelter to the people of Muthur East area in the Trincomalee district who were made refugees due to the military offensives in August 2006, in the middle of the fifth year of the Norwegian brokered Cease Fire Agreement between the government and Liberation Tigers. On 08 November, when the Sri Lanka Army carried out an artillery attack on the refugees at the Kathiravely School Refugees camp, 58 people including children and women were killed and 125 were injured.
The Palchenai Refugees camp attack killed 37 IDPs, and in Vaddavan 18 died. In addition, a number of IDPs died when fleeing by land and sea, and hundreds of others sustained injuries.
An accurate number of dead and injured is difficult to arrive at, as IDPs live spreadout in the district, many living with relatives and friends without the knowledge of the local authorities dealing with the relief assistance and compensation.
Meanwhile, the IDPs living at government expenses, point out inefficiencies of the authorities in paying compensations and say the payments are not timely. They say the red tape system should be put aside to help the people in need.
For example, the Ministry of Disaster Management gives Rs 15,000.00 for funeral expenses and Rs. 100,000.00 for a death. The injured are paid according to the seriousness of the injury. Although the rules apply to all communities, Tamil refugees complain of discrimination in relief disbursement.
When Sinhalese or Muslims are affected all the payments are distributed promptly, Tamil refugees say. Tamil IDPs receive payments for funeral expenses long after the death, and death benefits are paid after family struggles through months of hardship.
Civil society sources said the money allocated in fiscal year 2006 to pay compensation to the Kathiravely victims, was returned to the treasury due to the negligence of the authorities. When the authorities started to pay the money at the end of December, the Army resumed offensive the moneys were returned to the treasury, and so far the local authorities have not approached provincial authorities for the payments.
Batticaloa district government machinery is slow, civil sources say. Even tsunami victims were paid compensation only after three months of the catastrophe. Meanwhile, in Jaffna, the then Government Agent, Chelliah Pathmanathan, borrowed 2.5 million rupees from local businesspersons and gave the affected people immediately for funeral expenses. Then Premier Mahinda Rajapakse when he visited Jaffna came to know this and congratulated the GA for his timely and bold decision.
Rs 870,000.00 is needed to pay all Kathiravely victims.
The question in civil society's is whether the Batticaloa Government Agent will rise up to the challenge to see the needs of the most vulnerable section of the society, are met promptly.
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