Sri Lanka: Stories from Conflict Zones
BBC Report, 24 August 2006
The past month has witnessed the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the 2002
ceasefire between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels. The entire Jaffna
peninsula in the north has been cut off for more than a week following heavy
fighting. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and the capital
Colombo has witnessed two bombings in as many weeks. People across the country
have told the BBC how they have been affected by the escalation in violence.
Communication with people trapped in the Jaffna peninsula is proving virtually
Jude Simion, programme co-ordinator for the Alliance Development Trust, talks
about the reports he has been getting from his workers in the field in Jaffna.
Thousands of people have been displaced in northern areas. I got a call today
from somebody who got to Mullaitivu. There are no essential items in the shops.
A litre of gasoline, which was a month ago 80-90 rupees, is now 500-700 rupees.
On Monday in Jaffna, sugar was 60 rupees. Now it is going for 120 rupees. We
have had to use tsunami funds for emergency relief because we have been unable
to transfer funds from Colombo to Jaffna. Our response in this area is severely
restricted and very minimal.
The basic need is food. There is no fuel for vehicles to run, there is a need
for medicine too. In the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]-controlled
areas, this is of the greatest concern. Some of my workers are dealing with the
injured from shelling. There has been aid from international agencies and from
the government - but since the roads have been shut, nobody has been able to
access these people.
We hear about the tens of thousands displaced. But we are particularly concerned
about those who have not been displaced but are at home, still unable to get
access to food and medical facilities.
A Western aid worker in Kilinochchi describes how people are coping with
We know that some of them are hiding in the forest close to their houses. They
are afraid of being hit by artillery. I'm very close to Kilinochchi now.
Yesterday, it was quiet and the shelling had stopped around Pallai, the border
zone to the north.
Kilinochchi is full of transients. There are Sinhalese lorry drivers who have
been trapped there by the fighting. But the main presence are the families from
Pallai, north of the Elephant Pass. More than 10,000 people from there have been
displaced. They have gathered in schools and other community centres but some
are staying with friends. They need water and sanitation, there are not enough
toilets and we are involved in constructing temporary toilets.
Up to 20,000 displaced people in Kilinochchi district.
Displaced civilians in Jaffna and Point Pedro in the far north
Supplies of food and water "alarmingly low" in some areas
162,200 people have fled their homes since fighting began to flare up in April
This is rebel-controlled territory and inside Kilinochchi life is going on
pretty much as normal. Fuel prices did go up immediately, petrol is three times
more expensive now. Some essentials are hard to find.
But people along the coastal strip near Jaffna have also been displaced and we
know that some of them are hiding in the forest close to their houses. They are
afraid of being hit by artillery and shelling. Most are afraid of being bombed
by the security forces as they attack rebel targets.
People don't know whether this is really war or not. When I left Kilinochchi
last Wednesday, children as young as 12 said to me of the aerial bombing: "These
are only sounds, what's the need to worry?" So for people who live here,
it's not an enormous change. They are used to difficulties. Both sides - the
government and the rebels - try to use and influence us foreign NGOs in this
conflict. We just want to remain totally neutral, we just need to go in and help
those most in need.
A 16-year-old Tamil boy speaks about life inside Trincomalee as violence
intensifies outside the city limits. We can hear the bombings. For two or three
days this week, the noise was very loud. Just a few days ago we heard bombing
continuously for almost 24 hours. It was difficult to sleep. The first two or
three days we suffered like hell but you get used to it. Trincomalee is a place
for all three ethnic communities. I think community relations have been OK.
Everybody thinks the safest place in their homes. Nobody is moving out of their
house. I know that many of those who live in coastal Trincomalee have gone to
India. My father works in a private hospital. Before, we had more than 100
patients a day, now it is below 50. Because of the fighting, people are afraid
Everybody I know wants to flee the fighting. The atmosphere has changed a lot
over the last couple of weeks. Everybody thinks the safest place is their homes.
Nobody is moving out of their house. The city is at a standstill. Sometimes, I
think, with the way this war is going, I don't know if we are going to be alive
the next day.
A Westerner working for a development agency told the BBC about the situation in
Trincomalee. The fighting has prevented us from doing any work. In Trincomalee,
people are very worried about their projects. One sad example, is that we were
helping resettle people into a particular village. We have since heard that the
villagers have abandoned the place because of the fighting. Since the ceasefire
many people had resettled in these regions. Now many people are leaving Sri
Lanka. Even many of our local staff are considering leaving the country again.
The fear comes from the image of what happened in Muttur when 17 aid workers
were shot dead. Local staff used to be happy to wear the t-shirts of Western
NGOs, it gave them a sense of safety. Now that has all changed. People
disappear. A young Tamil friend of mine disappeared. This sort of thing is
happening and there is disinformation from both sides. A lot of the foreigners
are leaving here. We don't go into the field any more. Once the foreigners
leave, any development has to be controlled remotely. That seriously affects how
things work. Personally, I'm very sad. We've been here for four years. After the
ceasefire there was real positivity. But we have seen things go down the drain
in the past four weeks.
Priyantha Perera, 38, speaks of the tension in the capital, where there have
been a number of bombings and security scares are once again a daily reality.
Colombo has witnessed two bomb blasts in recent weeks. These recent bomb blasts
have affected all our lives. School vacations started early as parents were
frightened to send their children to school. I have three children of my own and
I am happy that they are at home.
When they were being sent to school, we were very worried about what might
happen on that day. I heard a bomb was defused in central Colombo yesterday. The
world needs to hear about this and help us out. We hear about terror plots in
the UK and the US. Terrorism is disrupting normal lives all over the world. It's
the same in Sri Lanka - except we live with this every day now. I never felt a
real ethnic problem between Sinhalese and Tamil people. Here in Colombo, I have
very good Tamil friends, many of my university classmates were Tamil.
We were like brothers.
But now, in Sinhalese majority areas as well, life is very difficult and
frightening and there is great sadness at all this violence.
Hussein talks about how Colombo has returned to an era of military
checkpoints. I was born and bred in Colombo, and I don't like what is
happening to my city. The current situation in Colombo is tense and it looks
like the people here are getting used to this kind of life. They have no choice.
RECENT COLOMBO VIOLENCE
23 August: Police say they defused an explosive device in a central market
14 August: Seven killed in explosion in central Colombo
12 August: Senior government peace official, Ketheesh Loganathan, shot dead
8 August: Two killed by a car bomb in a residential area
Claymore mines have been discovered in Colombo. There are check posts all over
the city checking identity. Military personnel with weapons stand in the
vicinity of civilians. It is not a pleasant sight.
The cost of living is going up.
We know there is a war going on but we can't say exactly what is happening. The
government have a stranglehold on the news so we don't know what to believe. I
would like to see our citizens move around with more freedom but recent
assassination attempts, bomb blasts and scares make this very difficult.
Anil, a child protection officer, describes how sporadic violence and tension
has spread to Batticaloa. Compared to other parts of the country, relative calm
has prevailed in Batticaloa. There have been a few odd incidents, a few
shootings, a claymore mine attack, but no large-scale violence. I have had
reports of severe food shortages in LTTE-controlled areas.
For the past couple of days, we have heard shelling in the uncleared areas
outside the city. We think the army is simply trying to establish its presence
rather than damage people. Batticaloa is not entirely government-controlled and
I have had reports of severe food shortages in the LTTE-controlled areas.
The government has also blocked heavy vehicles from leaving Batticaloa so people
cannot export their fish and goods to other parts, it makes their lives harder.
Moreover there are abductions. I have heard of one young man shot dead. I know
that children here fear abductions. It's such a pity because we had been feeling
until recently that there was a new lease of life among the children after the
horrors of the tsunami.
But now they fear abduction. There is a political game going on. People use
children in their games. We hear of LTTE recruitment of children, and the
[breakaway] Karuna rebel faction doing the same, but we also hear about
paramilitaries connected with the government recruiting children.
Jude Simion, programme co-ordinator for the Alliance Development Trust,
describes the fate of an aid convoy from Batticaloa to rebel-controlled Varahai
Many people have been trapped in the Jaffna peninsula because of fighting. On
Tuesday, one of our convoys from Batticaloa to Varahai in the east was turned
back because the military wasn't allowing us to take relief through to
LTTE-controlled areas. This turned out to be just a technical difficulty to do
with permissions, but it only adds to the frustrations of our workers. We were
travelling with the World Food Programme convoy. Getting access to the east is
also a huge struggle. Road access has completely shut down. We were dealing with
people severely affected by the tsunami. they settled in these eastern regions
after the ceasefire agreement. Basic essentials are the biggest needs, food, and
the evacuation of patients and the sick who are trapped there. Our convoy was
carrying rice, lentils, instant milk powder and basic food items. These items
have not been reaching these people. We need to get them through.