Ratnapura attacks spark strike by plantation workers

[TamilNet, Monday, 05 February 2007, 14:02 GMT]
Seven housing units belonging to Tamil plantation workers in Farm Garden Estate in Ratnapura were destroyed by fire Friday night at 8:30 p.m. when a group of unidentified gangsters, allegedly from the neighboring Sinhala village of Navanagara, armed with hand bombs set ablaze more than fifty housing units. The mob kicked the doors open, removed valuables from the units, splashed accelerants before setting fire to the units. The workers at the Farm Garden Estate went on strike Sunday to protest against the violence, and the lethargic response shown by the Estate Management, spokesperson for the workers said.

The attackers left the scene, after warning that they will burn alive all Tamil youths in the area, and demolish all housing facilities of the plantation workers, according the families who witnessed the crime.

The secretary of United Plantation Workers Union was severely man-handled by the mob, and has been admitted to Ratnapura Hospital.

The Tamils residing in Farm Garden Estate have to pass the town of Navanagara, a predominantly Sinhalese area, to reach their housing units. The Sinhala villagers of Navanagara who accuse the Tamil youths of involvement in recruiting estate youngsters to the Liberation Tigers, have long been suspected of plotting to attack the Tamil civilians in the estate in collusion with the estate management, families affected by the arson said.

The employees of Farm Garden Estate recently formed United Plantation Workers Union. Consequently, Sinhalese politicians fearing political threat posed by the by emerging activism of the workers had also started a propaganda campaign against the union workers.

Reliable sources from the area alleged that the attack on Friday was led by Munasinghe, a United National Party (UNP) member of Ratnapura Municipal council.

Though the police were notified immediately about the incident the Police arrived at the crime scene after considerable delay, a resident said. Also, an estate worker who lodged the complaint, told media that a manager of the estate when notified by telephone of the developing crisis refused to be drawn in saying that the workers must resolve the problems themselves.

Soon after the mob left 55 families in the area sought refuge in a nearby Christian church. The gang returned late in the night and looted the valuables from the deserted houses.

When the residents of Farm Garden Estate decided to return their residences on Saturday morning, a hostile gang had gathered on the outskirts of the estate and threatened to chase out the Tamils from the area.

Fearing further violence only a few families have returned to their residences.

In January, a group of Sinhalese attempted to attack a video store owned by a Tamil in Happugasthenna Estate, Ratnapura alleging that CDs released by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are being sold in the store. In the ensuing clashes, three Sinhalese civilians were seriously injured and admitted to Ratnapura Hospital. Many Tamils in the area continued to receive threats after this incident.

In late April 2006, 84 housing units of Tamil plantation workers in Bambegama Estate in Ratnapura district were destroyed by Sinhalese attackers.

In late December, a bus was way laid at the Sinhala town of Nivitigala and all Tamil passengers were severely assaulted by a group of Sinhalese.

In mid 2006, Tamil workers in Depidin estate in Rakwana were intimidated and warned.

In a separate incident on Friday, some Tamil youths were severely assaulted in Deraniyagala Estate.

Pointing out to the series of acts of violence committed against the upcountry Tamils recently, the residents of Farm Garden expressed concern that political leaders from the plantation sector have failed to provide protection for the Tamils residing in Ratnapura.

Farm Garden is located 30km south of Ratnapura town.


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