Vaakarai suffers under SLA restrictions

Place: Vaakarai | Courtesy: TamilNet
| Date: 19990226

More than eight thousand Tamils who eke out a living on incomes less than 14.50 US dollars a month in the northern corner of the Batticaloa district may soon face semi famine conditions say aid workers in the east.

Most of the problems faced by the people here stem from the fact that the area is beyond the control of the Sri Lankan army.

The region lies between Vaakarai, 56 miles north of Batticloa and the Verugal Aaru, a tributary of the Mahawali Ganga, the island's longest river.

The army moved into Vaakarai last year. However, it was unable to bring under its control the 35 kilometre coast and its hinterland north of Vaakarai as it was short of manpower.

It has placed severe restrictions on the supply of essentials, medicine and agricultural inputs to this region since then, in the beleif that these could affect the survival of the small group of Tigers who continue to operate from here.

The restrictions, as usual have hit the civilians instead of the Tigers who bring in their own supplies by sea.

The army refuses to permit repairs to the pontoon bridge over the Verugal river that linked this region to the southern part of the Trincomalee district.

Hence, the even the limited flow of supplies from Mutur and other towns in the southern parts of Trincomalee has greatly dwindled say residents.

So residents have to personally carry supplies bought in Valaichenai through the SLA's point in Vakaarai.

The army permits each adult resident in this area to carry five kilograms of flower, five measures of rice, two cakes of soap, two match boxes, a card of paracetamol, two kilograms of sugar, a packet of milkpowder etc., Fertilisers, pesticides, medicines, camphor, cement, steel etc., are banned.

Most civilians here engage in slash and burn (Chenai) cultivation in the hinterland and fishing. Paddy cultivation in once prosperous areas such as Thoni Thatta Madu in the fertile interior has been largely abandoned due the the SLA ban on agricultural inputs.

Fishermen in the region have to take their catch 18 kilometres south to Panichchangkerni where Muslim fishmongers from Valaichenai buy the fish from them at bargain prices.

This is so because the fish cannot be preserved for the next day to fetch better prices for want of ice. There are six bakeries in the area and none are allowed to bring in flour to bake bread.

There are seven villages in this region that have survived nine years of the war, although their populations have greatly dwindled due to poverty, disease, evacuations, SLA bans on cultivation etc.,

Many villages in the interior have been abandoned over the years due to the war.

The jungle has grown over them.

The seven villages are Kandalady (240 families), Ambanthnavali (150 families), Paalchenai (340 families), Kathiraveli (360 families) lie on either side of the coastal road north of Vaakarai; And Puthur (230 families), Kattumurivu (215 familes) and Aandankulam (250 families) are villages in the interior which are beyond the military's jurisdiction.

The main trunk road and the interior roads have almost vanished in these parts.

The small repairs to these roads carried out by the Liberation Tigers when they controlled the whole Vaakarai region were washed away by the floods during this monsoon.

The impoverished residents of the this region have to walk for more than fifteen kilometres to seek medical care in Vaakarai, provided twice a week by a mobile clinic of the Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF).

The MSF serves this area from its office in Batticaloa.