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Thu, 24 July 2014 05:08:25
Missing tsunami children still haunt parents in Sri Lanka
19 Dec, 2005 00:00:00
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Dec 19 (AFP) - In the jungles of Sri Lanka's rebel-controlled north, parents almost one year after the tsunami continue to scour Tamil Tiger training camps hoping to find their missing children.
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Dec 19 (AFP) - In the jungles of Sri Lanka's rebel-controlled north, parents almost one year after the tsunami continue to scour Tamil Tiger training camps hoping to find their missing children.
In the tourist-oriented government-controlled south, parents have by and large accepted that their sons and daughters who vanished when the giant waves ravaged the tropical island are not coming back. They will light lamps and pray for their souls on the anniversary of the devastation later this month.

There are other differences between how those in rebel and government areas have separately coped with the devastation that killed at least 31,000 people in Sri Lanka, but none, perhaps, are as disturbing.

"People are still extremely stressed, says Penny Brune, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) director in Kilinochchi, the northern political capital of the rebel Liberation Tigers and Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Some parents, she says, still believe their children are alive and are in rebel training camps.

"Sometimes they see a child who looks like their own and this fuels their hopes," Brune says.

Immediately after the disaster, which left a million left homeless, human rights groups claimed the LTTE, which has a history of recruiting child soldiers, had picked up all the tsunami waifs.

Brune personally does not think the claims to be valid. The LTTE, she says, has been allowing parents to walk through its training camps to satisfy themselves their children are not now wielding rifles and learning how to kill.

Down south, tsunami survivors seem to have accepted by now that their missing children died in the disaster.

"Immediately after the tsunami we were besieged by families looking for their children, but this is not happening any more," says policewoman Waruni Bogahawatte in the southern city of Matara.

"Parents are accepting that their children are dead," says Bogahawatte, who has taken a personal interest in trying to unite orphans with their relatives.

Human recovery generally, however, has been slow.

Scores of survivors interviewed by AFP in most tsunami zones indicated they were still struggling to cope with the devastation wrought by the mammoth waves.

Most families living in the temporary huts have lost at least one close relative. Most camps are small and crowded and plagued by flies and mosquitoes.

Huts were scorchingly hot in the summer and are leaking now that it is monsoon season.

All hate their new lives and wish they could go back to how things were before the tsunami.

Fishermen who used to trawl the seas are now selling vegetables at roadside stalls or, like H.A Santhi Kumar of Hikkaduwa, working on other people's boats as they await their turn for one of the hundreds of vessels being donated by foreign agencies.

Some, like Athula Mendis of Galle, have sent their wives to work as housemaids in Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries in an attempt to build up capital.

A few survivors have taken to begging. -- Slow progress --

For most of the tsunami-affected, picking up their lives again will take years, says Brune of UNICEF.

"Many women were killed, so we have lots of households where the men suddenly are left looking after the children," she says. "Families lost everything. It was all washed away -- even their photographs.

"As long as people don't have their own homes, they have nothing on which to rebuild their lives," she adds.

Construction of permanent shelters has been slow, especially in areas controlled by the LTTE, according to Tony Oliver, coordinator of UNOPS, which handles big construction projects like schools.

"In general, there are more complications (in LTTE areas). There is a lack of raw material, contractors are in short supply, those who are around are over-committed and underperforming -- there is all round lack of capacity," says Oliver, who is based in Kilinochchi.

Paperwork between the government and the rebels to facilitate the flow of raw materials and relief goods, too, was holding up development, he adds.

Unlike in the south, however, where temporary wood and iron houses were built on small tracts of usually private land, huts in the north used traditional materials such as palms and reeds so they went up quicker.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) associate liaison officer in Kilinochchi, David Glendinning, says no one expected tsunami survivors to live in temporary shelters for more than about six months.

"Permanent structures are taking a lot longer than we envisaged," he says. "In effect we are building brand new villages."

Many humanitarian workers off the record say the failure of the government and the LTTE to reach accord on the doling out of foreign aid for projects in their respective zones was contributing to the slower progress in rebel areas.

The relief was eventually reaching survivors, they say, but through non-governmental organisations rather than through the LTTE directly as had been envisaged.

Complicating matters in the north and parts of the east, says Glendinning, is the fact that aside from the tsunami displaced there are also thousands of people who were dislodged by the decades-long civil war between the LTTE and government troops who are also awaiting new housing.

Peace talks between Colombo and the Tigers have been deadlocked since April 2003, although a truce signed in February 2002 still holds.

Down south, the concerns are less to do with national politics than on where one can cite a building -- the government has been strictly enforcing a ban on reconstruction in the 100 meter (yard) buffer zone which it says is where most of the damage occurred.

This, says Manoj Jayasuriya, mayor of the tourist town of Hikkaduwa, has hampered reconstruction of infrastructure necessary to entice tourists back to tsunami-lashed coastal resorts.

He says, however, many non-government organisations and foreign groups are pitching in to help rebuild the battered coastlines.

The evidence is everywhere -- "Samaritan Austria, 25 houses here", reads one sign; "With love from your friends in Italy", reads another plastered on a housing project just north of Hikkaduwa; "Donated by (Italian group) GUS", says a sticker on a boat in Galle.

In the LTTE's north, the signs are mainly those of major NGO groups like Save the Children, Care and Oxfam.

These are dotted between the ubiquitous longstanding posters warning children not to pick up unidentified objects -- they may explode. -

-AFP Colombo: win98win@gmail.com 

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