Grief-stricken Sri Lankan refugees haunted by conflict

TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, Aug 8, 2006 (AFP) – Grief-stricken men, women and children trudge to a refugee camp after fleeing deadly fighting through ghost towns and past decomposing bodies, haunted by what they have seen. They are escaping from Sri Lanka’s troubled northeast and many do not talk, instead simply gesturing for food and water.

Stunned at the end of a dangerous trek as government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels continue exchanging mortar and artillery fire behind them, the refugees are traumatised, with family and close friends dead.

“There is no one left. Everyone is gone,” wails Waralakshmi, a middle-aged woman from a majority Tamil village that was hit by mortar fire.

She says her adult son went missing when shells landed in their village at the weekend and she was separated from her husband during a mad scramble to escape.

The portly woman, her arthritic feet swollen after days of walking through unevenly paved asphalt, has reached the town of Kantale in Sri Lanka’s Trincomalee district and hopes to be reunited with her family.

“I know they are somewhere safe,” she said, her voice choking with emotion. “It is a nightmare. There are so many missing and dead.”

She