05/24/2012, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Tamil and war widows abandoned by the Sri Lankan government

by Melani Manel Perera
Catholic priests participate in a meeting in Jaffna (Northern Province) where they criticise the government for violating the fundamental rights of Tamils in the north. In Batticaloa (Eastern Province), 184 war widows are still living in temporary housing without running water, electricity, toilet facilities or government financial assistance.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - In Sri Lanka's predominantly Tamil north, religious celebrations are restricted, freedom of association is violated and the traditional culture is being undermined, this according to Catholic priests from the southern part of the country, members of the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM). At a meeting in Jaffna (Northern Province), local prelates said, "There is a need for a political solution so that that the Tamil people are recognised as part of the nation." In the island's eastern region, serious problems also persist, especially for war widows.

For almost 30 years (1983-2009), the island nation was the scene of civil war between the government and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE), a rebel group fighting for an independent state in the northern and eastern provinces of the country, where a majority of the population is Tamil.

Rapidly, the conflict took on an ethnic character until its conclusion with the rebel's defeat (following the killing of their leader). The war caused heavy losses, and created a huge cleavage between the impoverished Tamil north and east (with more than 200,000 internally displaced people) and the rich and prosperous Sinhalese south.

Since the end of the war, religious leaders and national and international NGOs have denounced on several occasions the situation in which Tamils still find themselves.

New concerns were also voiced at the meeting in Jaffna. "There are attempts to Sinhalese Tamil areas," southern priests told AsiaNews. "Buddhist statutes are put up in places where there are no Buddhists. Sinhalese physicians are brought in even though they cannot communicate with most of their patients because they cannot speak the Tamil language."

People in the Eastern Province are not faring much better. In the district of Batticaloa, 184 war widows in five villages, Weligahakandiya, Kopawali, Thumpalochcholai, Kithul and Urukaamam, are still forced to live in temporary housing without running water, electricity and toilet facilities.

"These are major problems and they need an urgent solution," said Laveena, coordinator of North and East Women program of Nafso. "We told Sivaneshathurai Chandrakanthan, chief minister of the province, about it in a report."

The report itself documents the overall situation in the five villages. About 250 families do not receive any aid under the Samurdi (prosperity) initiative, a national savings and credit programme for the poor; 647 families are without toilet facilities; 780 have no drinking water; 790 have no electricity; and 584 are in temporary housing.

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