03/20/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Young people from south visit peers in north, under the tragedy of the war

by Melani Manel Perera
An initiative promoted by the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement. For three days, 25 young people from the south of the island lived together with 120 young people from the north. They worked together in the hospital of Mannar, among the victims of the conflict. The young people from the south discovered the brutality of the war, while those from the north found out that not all of the Sinhalese are soldiers, and that "they are nice people."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - In front of them, young people without arms or without legs, orphaned by the war that for 20 years has been raging in the north. "The soldiers told us to leave our homes in two hours, without giving us any explanation. They told us that we would be gone for three days. We have been in Nanattan for 18 months. You have seen all of the conditions in which we live. The government says that the war is necessary to bring democracy to the north. But in meeting with the victims of the war, you have been able to see the 'democracy' that we have obtained."

Susantha, a 21-year-old refugee from Arippu, spoke to a group of young people from the south of Sri Lanka who were visiting the northern province of Mannar, among the refugees and victims of the conflict between the government and the Tamil rebels.

From March 13-15, 25 young people from the south of the country shared together with their peers from the north three days of encounters, visits, and solidarity initiatives promoted by the Youth Movement for Environment & Social Change, the youth association of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement.

More than 120 young refugees from the city of Arippu, in the north of the country, welcomed the young people from the south of the island at the Nanattan Government School. "We did not expect such a welcome," says Sebastian Vincent, a 26-year-old from Negombo, "and we were very impressed from the first moment when we arrived."

On the first day of the initiative, entitled the "Youth to Youth Solidarity Tour in Mannar," the group of young people participated in an encounter on the historical reasons for the war that is gripping Sri Lanka, and reviewed the history of the country from the pre-colonial period until today. "All of the young people were very satisfied [with the encounter]," explains Fernando Laksiri, who headed the initiative, "and they asked for further explanation."

On Saturday the 14th, the group of 150 young people went to the hospital of Mannar for the Shramadana, a day of volunteer labor with the patients, victims of the war. Interviewed by AsiaNews, the young people described the "hundreds of children, young people, and elderly hospitalized with serious injuries and problems, some of them without arms or legs." They included A. Sajeewan, a 16-year-old from Hindu College in Kilinochchi. Some of the young people of the Youth to Youth Solidarity Tour were with him for the Shramadana. Fleeing from one of the areas most affected by the war, Sajeewan lost both of his hands, and has serious injuries on many parts of his body. His mother is also hospitalized in Mannar, but his father is not with them. They were wounded by a shell that exploded with the entire family nearby. Sajeewan's two younger sisters died in the explosion.

"We saw with our own eyes that the information we get from the media is not the truth," one young man says, "and the suffering of the people in the north is not being reported in the south." Fernando Laksiri explains that the three days spent together, and the Shramadana at the hospital in Mannar, were a very important experience: "the young people [from the south] have touched with their own hands the brutality of the war"; for those of the north, it was an opportunity to discover their peers: "We did not imagine that the Sinhalese could be such nice people; we had seen only the soldiers and their way of treating people."

One young man from the south says: "There needs to be much more cooperation and interaction [among us] in order to provide better understanding of the situation." The Youth to Youth Solidarity Tour "opened the eyes" of the young people who after three days of living together parted with the promise of continuing their friendship and encounters. In April, a group of 60 of them will make the journey in the opposite direction, and the young people from the north will go to visit their new friends in the south.

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