12/14/2011, 00.00
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Tamil refugees and war widows in militarised Jaffna

by Melani Manel Perera
Almost three since the end of the civil war, the northern peninsula has one one soldier for every 11 civilians, that is 40-50,000 troops out of a population of 600,000. About 39,000 war widows and 200,000 internally displaced people are still waiting. Tamils too are waiting for the government to provide housing, jobs, land and aid.
Jaffna (AsiaNews) – Two and half year since the end of the 30-year civil war, Tamils in northern Sri Lanka complain about the area’s militarisation and the slow pace of the government’s development projects, and this despite the promises made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In Jaffna peninsula, the ratio between military and the civilian population is 1 to 11, which means about 40-50,000 soldiers out of a population of 600,000. Thousands of Tamils and representatives of 40 NGOs marked Human Rights Day by asking the authorities to pursue pacification and solve the problem of displaced people and war widows.

Even though the interethnic conflict ended in 2009, military defence in 2010 stood at LKR 250 billion (US$ 2.1 billion). For Kumarvadiwail Kuruban, a professor in the Faculty of Law at Jaffna University, that level of “spending is too high. [. . .] “It is designed to maintain the military’s hold on the country and the welfare of their families.”

“The government believes that reducing the size of the military will lead to an economic and job crisis,” he explained. At the same time though, it “is depriving Tamils, who depend on fishing and farming, of their lands in order to develop the tourist industry in the northern province.”

The country still has 200,000 displaced people, some victim of the first phase of the civil war (1991) and some of the second (2009). “Some people displaced in both periods are still in camps, living in small huts and shacks without their basic needs met,” said Anthony Jesudasan, coordinator of the programme ‘People to People Dialogue on Freedom for Nations and Resettlement For Internally Displaced People’.

On Jaffna Peninsula, there are also 39,000 war widows, said Saroja Shivachandran, of the Women Development Centre. Even though they lost everything, there is no government aid programme for them. “They have no home, no work, no minimum aid. They lost husbands, brothers and sons. After the violence, they are isolated and abandoned.”

“The government is giving every police officer and soldier 100,000 rupees (US$ 875) if they have a third child,” said Herman Kumara, convener of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO). “We ask therefore that each war widow be given an acre of land to start over. We also want the government to implement a work plan for the future of all the displaced people still living in the 56 refugee camps in the north.”
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