Sri Lanka

Dateline ACT Sri Lanka 01/03: Peace process brings hope

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By Diana Mavunduse
Geneva, 13 March 2003 - The cease-fire agreement between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has brought hope to the people of Sri Lanka who for the first time in 22 years have experienced one whole year without war.

"The sound of gunfire and bombs have been replaced by the sound of cars hooting and the ringing of bicycles bells...this is really a peaceful sound to our ears," said Noel Thampoe, project coordinator of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI), a member of the global alliance, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International.

Since the bitter escalation of the civil war in 1995, the entire Tamil community living in the northern and eastern parts of the country in the so-called "unliberated areas" have had to live under a government enforced embargo. Medicine, food, clothing and other essential items were denied to them.

The buildings in Jaffna, the capital city of the Jaffna Peninsula in the northern part of Sri Lanka, which was the front-line during the 22 year civil war, tell the story of what type of war was fought. Churches, schools, factories, business centres, hospitals and residential houses, all felt the brunt of the war. Today, the city is still under military control and has been declared a high security zone.

However, the  current peace process brokered by the Norwegian government has brought people back to their original homes. Although considered as a positive move, the returnees face tough problems as they find that their homes and villages have been destroyed, sometimes leveled to nothing and with some of their homes still occupied by the military.

"The day to day living of the people has been destroyed. There are no jobs. Thousands of families have lost their homes, people have nowhere to plough, because most of the prime cultivating land has been occupied by the government soldiers and they have no access to it," said Rev. Jeyakumaran, area minister for the JDCSI in the Vanni district. He added that "thousands of anti-personal mines, which have been laid in the surrounding areas, have had a big impact on agriculture, people and animal movement."

In response to the crisis in the north, JDCSI issued an ACT Appeal totaling US$ 485, 075 to resettle 500 families in 10 villages.

However, so far only US$ 84, 000 has been received and this has forced the JDCSI to reduce the number of beneficiaries from 500 families to 100 families in two villages in the Vanni district, which is under the control of the LTTE.

"With the money received so far, we have already ordered some building materials from Colombo and bricks for the houses are already in the process of being molded and people have started to clear the land for building," said Rev. Jeyakumaran.

The beneficiaries are rural farmers who have no regular income and no means of restarting their livelihoods. Priority is given to widows with three or more dependents, who have no income, and disabled breadwinners who are unable to work.

A special committee called the Vanni Rehabilitation Committee was set up by the JDCSI to select the beneficiaries. The project will provide building materials and each family will receive one acre of land for agriculture. One water well catering for 10 families will also be constructed.

Some of the houses will be built near a plantation owned by JDCSI called, "Shalom Nagar City", "The idea is to have the houses close to the plantation, so that some of the family members to work at the farm and earn a living. The farm will also be used as an agricultural training centre for the families to start their own farms," said Mr. Suppiah Ratnavel, project officer for JDCSI.

The land used for this project was obtained from the government free of charge and ownership will be transferred to the beneficiaries after five years of occupation, according to government regulations.

For further information, please contact:

ACT Press Officer Diana Mavunduse  (mobile/cell phone + 41 79 681 1868)
ACT Web Site address: http://www.act-intl.org