Feature Article

Thirukkovil refugees' woes worsened by STF

[TamilNet, Sunday, 22 March 1998, 23:59 GMT]
Eight hundred and nine refugee families, displaced from the interior villages of Thangavelayuthapuram, Kanjikudichcha Aaru, Alikkambai, Thandiady, Udumbankulam etc., in the south eastern sector of the Amparai district, have been living as refugees in Thirukkovil, a large ancient Tamil village, on the eastern coast of the Amparai District, since 1990.

Of these, 563 families live on private land in Vinayahapuram, a village immediately south of Thirukkovil, while 246 families from Alikkambai and Kaanjirangkudah have built huts in a privately owned paddy field in Kalliyantheevu three kilometers east of Thirukkovil.

Thangavelayuthapuram, Udumbankulam and Kanjikudichcha Aaru are villages five miles south of Thirukovil on the edge of deep jungle. Ninety eight people including women, old persons and children were killed when this area was extensively bombed by the Sri Lanka Air Force on May 22 1990. Thirty five people who ran for safety during this bombing are still reported missing.

"The 563 refugee families are from Mandoor, Veeramunai, Sorikalmunai Malvaththai and Senaikudiyiruppu. We have been settled in the Kanjikudichcha Aaru scheme area from 1972. Most of us are cattle herders, chena cultivators and farmers. We lived without any problem until 1986. But after 1990 we lost our relatives, all personal belongings, our cattle and fields and have ended up here as refugees," said said Thambimuttu Kandiah (72) speaking to the TamilNet's Ampara correspondent who visited the refugee camps recently.

He said that their life in the camp was anything but peaceful. They have to sign at the Special Task Force (STF) camp for their missing children whom the STF thinks have run away to join the LTTE. And when they report to the camp, the STF compels them to engage in hard labour such as clearing shrub jungle, chopping firewood, repairing bunkers etc., Men and women are sometimes beaten up by the STF when they do not report for 'signing' due to illness or other unavoidable circumstances.

"My son disappeared during an attack by army in our area. I have to place my signature at the STF camp every Saturday. I am regularly ordered to do work in the camp such as cutting grass and shrub" said Theivanayagam Paakiyammah (55), a mother of six.

"For almost an year since we fled our villages as refugees we have been staying in temples and markets . After that, with the help of NGOs such as Sarvodaya and Seva Lanka we built the huts in which we live now" said K. Yogaraja (33).

Life in the camp is unpleasant. Water stands a foot deep in the camps during the monsoon. The villagers have no money to re-thatch their roofs. Though authorities have inspected the huts a couple of times, no action has been taken to repair the crumbling thatch.

"We don't have the facilities to cook our daily meals - how can we thatch our roofs?" asked Yogarajah.

The refugees are caught in the horns of a dilemma. Though they wish to return to their homes there is strong opposition. The STF interpreted the move as supportive of the Tigers. The STF thinks that if they are resettled in their villages, they will provide succour to the LTTE which has large bases in the jungles in the interior.

But the refugees are faced with a more pressing problem now because the land on which they are settled belongs to a private person.

"The landlord wants us to move out because he wants the land," said Yograja. Most families in the refugee camp have five or more members each. They have to subsist on 1260 rupees worth of dry rations per month which is inadequate. "Under these circumstances, either the Government should resume the food stamps scheme which is now suspended, or has to take measures to send us back to our villages" said Theivanayagam Paakkiyammah.

At Kalliyantheevu, the other refugee camp three kilometers east of Thirukkovil, S. Sebamalai said that the Eastern Human and Economic Development Agency (EHED) an NGO of the Catholic church, had provided some facilities for the inmates of the camp.

But he said that since the private land on which they were settled was marsh and a tank stood nearby, the humidity made living there very unhealthy. Children are particularly affected by the conditions here.

"We eked out a living in the past by hunting and gathering honey. But with the STF refusing us permission to go into the forest we are not in position to continue our livelihoods," said Sebamalai.

Most of the villages from where these people were driven out by the STF in 1990 came into being in the early seventies when a large number of land less families cleared plots in the thick forests west of the trunk road between Pottuvil and Thitukkovil in south eastern Ampara district. The land less families came mostly from Mandoor, Veeramunai, Sorikalmunai Malvaththai and Senaikudiyiruppu which are densely populated Tamil villages situated to the west and north west of Kalmunai.


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