09/08/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Government and rebels responsible for 94,000 displaced families, says bishop of Mannar

by Melani Manel Perera
Monsignor Rayappu levels harsh accusations against both sides involved in the war for depriving people of home and work. Fishermen are in a difficult situation, prevented from going out to the sea at night.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – “Today what we need is assistance for the 94,000 displaced families who are living in a very difficult situation due to the ongoing war in Vanni. Although the government has said that everything has already provided, people are hardly getting the basics. Even Church organisations are not allowed to assist people as required,” said Mgr Rayappu Joseph, bishop of Mannar. “We want to change this situation urgently,” he added. This way the population can have a life of dignity.

The prelate made the stern warning during a meeting with groups involved in helping the population affected by the war in the diocese. For him “successive governments, the military and the Liberation Tamil Tiger of Eelam (LTTE) are to blame for the current situation.”

“During our meeting with residents in the Arippu area, the bishop stressed how the war has affected first and foremost people involved in fishing; the latter cannot go to sea when they want but only when they are allowed,” said Herman Kumara, general secretary of  World Forum for Fisher People.

Mr Kumara explained to AsiaNews that about 1,250 families from the Arippu area have been displaced since September 2007, including 450 fishermen families who were told by the army to leave “within an hour.” All they could take was the “clothes on their back.”

“Now they have no income, cannot fish, farm or raise cattle. The government provides them with 11.2 kg of rice, 1 kg of flower, 0.75 kg of lentils and 0.5 kg of sugar per month. Valvuthayam, the local chapter of Caritas, provides some dry rations.”

Frustration is growing among the displaced. 

Fisherman Ruben Croos told AsiaNews that he lost his fishing boat, nets and 15hp out board engine.  Like him 450 families cannot earn a living. They have been displaced for the past year and even if they can get home, “Who will provide some basic assistance for us? We lost everything we owned,” he said. “We were living with our families and some of them are no longer with us. There is no education for our children; no health facilities for poor people. Are we not citizen of our country?”

For his part Yogaratnem Coongne, a fisherman from Thaliamannar, believes that their difficulties are compounded by the presence of Indian trawlers, which “come to our waters close to the shore.”

“There are no restrictions for them to operate at night,” he said. By contrast, “we cannot go out to sea at night; only in day time from 6.00 am to 4.00 pm.”

Making matters worse “Indian trawlers are plundering the resource, using destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling.”

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