|Wednesday, 20 February 2002|
'Things are changing for better'
by Ranga Jayasuriya
For a stranger, the land on the other side of the Piramanayan Kulam security check point would give the impression of a medieval city. The economic embargoes which were in force till January 15 and the war dragging for nearly two decades have kept this land away from the rest of the world.
The war has reduced the once 'A' class highway from Vavuniya to the Wanni to a dirt track and a vehicle takes almost six hours for the 80 km journey from Piramanayan Kulam to Mallavi on the potholed road damaged by land mines. No modern vehicles except few owned by international humanitarian agencies can be seen on the road. Bicycle -which was earlier banned - is now a luxury item. The Mudhu co-operative now sells them, 7200 rupees each. The Madhu Church has the only land phone in the vast Wanni region. But when I asked to take a call to my office I was told that both parties were tapping the line. The LTTE however, operates two satellite phones, a call costs 350 rupees per minute.
One Kilometre from the Piramanayan Kulam on the Madhu road, is a huge board warning the danger of land mines: Beware of mines - Do not go to danger, Do not touch unfamiliar items. Thousands of mines mainly the anti personnel mines have been planted by both parties in the war and no mine clearing program has been carried out in the area.
The removal of economic embargoes and the on-going ceasefire between the Government and the LTTE have eased the grievances of people. " Goods are now available and the prices have gone down," Thilaipalam Yogarathnam, a vendor at the Madhu market said. Like many others who have fled from their villages, Yogarathnam has moved to Madhu in 1990, when the war reached her village, Periyathampanei. "We want peace to go to our homes," she claimed.
The things are changing for the better, as Jayarathne, a cycle vendor at the Madhu market claimed. With the removal of the embargoes, prices of the spare parts have gone down. Prices of sugar and kerosine oil have gone down from 60 rupees per Kilo and 120 rupees per liter to 35 and 60 respectively. Jayaratne had fled Colombo in 1977, when an anti Tamil riot broke out.
Madhu - the refugee camp in the church premises.
The Madhu church is a destination of Catholics of all parts of the country. Now, the church land is shared by 2000 families who fled their villages in the North and the East, when the fighting erupted.
Arulappu, 42 and her husband fled from Murungan with their seven children when the fighting intensified between the Government forces engaged in the Operation Edibala and the LTTE. Now the family live in a 9' by 9 feet thatched hut at the Madhu Camp. Joseph Anna who ran away from her home in Shilawathura, when a shell fire destroyed her nextdoor now lives in a same type of hut with her two kids next to Aruppu's.
Both Arulappu and Josep Anna would return home,if the war comes to the end. But Andrew Amuda and her father Barapprakasham Jesuratnam would not. Jesuratnam fled from the Navy controlled Mandatheiv to Jaffna then under the LTTR rule with Amuda and Andrew - whom to Amuda married- in 1990, when his three sons Suhirdarathnam Jesurathnam, Wijayarathnam Jesurathnam and Radhanan Jesurathnam were abducted by the Navy. The boys didn't return. The trio fled from Jaffna to Madhu, when the Government Forces engaged in Operation Rivirasa recaptured Jaffna peninsula. Even 12 years after their disappearance, Amuda is still yearning for her brothers. Jesurathnam asked the assistance from the Red Cross and the army to locate the whereabout of them, but no response is received
Like the family of P. Nagarathnam , 12 whose father is too old to work and has no income to provide three young sisters schooling, most people at the camp depend on food subsidies provided by the Government through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR distributes dry rations provided by the Government- the ration per person values 308 rupees,two persons 616 rupees or four people 1208 rupees.
Sanitary facilities and the health care in the area are not developed. But, the local health authorities try their best to keep the disease at bay. Lohithraja and B. Ganeshan, local Public Health Inspectors organise mobile health camps and malaria prevention programs. Things have now improved and the embargoes on the medicine have been lifted.
The health authorities there however had a difficult time under the embargoes. The shortage of medicine and equipments was customary. All emergency cases were transferred to the Vavuniya hospital through the ICRC. Triposha had not been provided for 1 1/2 years- But President Kumaratunga in the BBC Hard Talks accepted that 40% of children in the North East were malnourished.
The Medicine Sans Frontiers runs a hospital just a few hundred metres away from the Church. The Hospital has nearly 60 beds and two foreign doctors and two nurses to serve. The MSF provides medical assistance to the people and three mobile clinics are being conducted monthly in Tachchanamadhu, Periyamadhu and Kirisudan.
During the recent times, Madhu has been shifting between the Army and the LTTE. The Army captured the area in a suppresing military offensive in 1999, and within a few months the LTTE retaliated and recaptured the area. The recent peace initiatives taken by the both side in the war have however kindled a hope. Hope for peace. Peace for thousands of refugees like Joseph Anna to return their villages; for youth like Kumaran 30 at the Teenamadhu to live with respect; to ensure basic rights for education of children like Nagarathnam. And to avoid the recurrence of the tragedies like Andrew Amuda's and Jesuratnam's.
Produced by Lake House