07/28/2015, 00.00
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Injustice is still the lot of many of Sri Lanka’s war widows

by Melani Manel Perera
Although the country’s civil war ended many years ago, the legacy of the bloody conflict between the government and Tamil rebels is still felt. Refugees are still forced to move as the government seizes their lands. The latest trend has been to use farmland for tourist development. The net effect of the situation is that refugee children have easy access to drugs but no access to education. After 100 days in power, “we expected something better” from President Sirisena.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – After 30 years of bloody civil war, a group of dozens of Tamil war widows met with a delegation of foreign diplomats on 24 July and made a desperate plea that their suffering not be forgotten.

“As war victims,” some said, “we are still suffering.  There is no plan to rebuild our poor lives. We made some efforts for peace but this has led to nothing. Therefore, we ask for your support to face the difficulties and start to live as human beings.”

For almost 30 years (1983-2009) the island was torn by civil war between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE), an organisation fighting for an independent Tamil state in the country’s northern and eastern provinces.

The civil war ended with the rebels’ defeat and a pronounced divide between a poor Tamil north, home to 200,000 internal refugees, and a rich and prosperous Sinhala south and south-west.

Raajini, a Tamil woman from Jaffna district (in the north), was forced to leave her home in 1990, when she was 20. Since then she has lived as a displaced refugee in more than five places, with her children.

"I lost the land my father gave me because it was seized by the military,” she said. “But the saddest thing is that the authorities have been using it for tourism. That is something unacceptable."

For Asuntha Peiris, not even the election of Maithripala Sirisena as the new president in January of this year and the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa have improved the fortunes of war widows.

"The previous government invaded our land and forced us to live a miserable life. We faced many difficulties, without drinking water, electricity or sanitation in refugee camps,” she told AsiaNews.

“We asked for help so many times, but no one listened. The current government has been in power for more than 100 days, but the problems remain the same," she told the delegation of diplomats.

Saahira Ismail, a Muslim woman from Ampara district in the east of the country, said that young widows endured a lot of violence.

What is more, good farmland has not been used for national security, as the authorities claimed, but to develop tourism. "What kind of justice is that? Ampara is an agricultural district. There are rice fields and locals work in the paddies. Six years after the war, our property has not yet been returned."

The precarious situation has affected children the most. "They are in danger because of the elephants that come out of the jungle,” said one resident.

The animals “are used to destroy makeshift shelters. The children are afraid at night and even in daytime, when they walk the streets.”

“There are also no schools and children cannot get a decent education. On the other hand, they have easy access to drugs because they are sold everywhere in the villages. "

"We expected something better when we voted for this president," said another.

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